Tag Archives: Legal Profession Insights

The Strategic Lateral Move: A Guide for Attorneys Contemplating Change

As attorneys progress through their careers, the decision to make a lateral move to a new role becomes an increasingly relevant consideration. Most attorneys lateral at least once in the first seven years of their practice, often due to the realization that the fit envisioned during law school’s On-Campus Interviewing (OCI) process doesn’t fully align with their long-term career aspirations or firm preferences. This journey leads us to ask ourselves whether this is the year to make a change.

Timing and Marketability: The Optimal Window for Lateral Moves

It’s observed that the majority of lateral moves to firms happen between an attorney’s 2nd and 5th year of practice. This period is the ‘sweet spot’ where attorneys possess the right mix of expertise and adaptability, without being too senior, thus maximizing marketability. However, as one moves past the 5th-year mark, opportunities start to thin out due to growing seniority. Given this, the magic time to move is between an associate’s 2nd and 5th year of practice, where the number of opportunities peaks.

Mentoring and Training: The Cornerstones of Professional Development

In the current working environment where in-office time differs from firm to firm, the level of mentoring and training varies significantly across firms. The ability to interact with other lawyers in the office can significantly impact one’s long-term development, particularly for junior attorneys. The availability and quality of mentorship and training depend on factors like formal programs, partner availability, and the presence of a supportive associate team.

Practice Area Fit: Broadening or Narrowing Your Expertise

Many attorneys face challenges in picking the “perfect” practice area, often making this decision in law school without sufficient information. When a practice isn’t the right fit, it is worth considering a lateral move to look at roles that broaden or narrow their current practice or potentially transition practices altogether. Transitioning practices can be difficult, especially in a down market, but firms sometimes retool associates with closely related experience. Regardless of the pivot you are looking for, it is ideal to make this move sooner rather than later as it becomes increasingly difficult with seniority.

Partnership Prospects: Assessing Your Current Firm’s Pathway

The journey to partnership varies across firms. It’s crucial to assess if your firm provides a clear and supportive path to partnership, including opportunities to lead cases/deals, formal business development training, client exposure, and mentorship. The promotion criteria and the firm’s culture around partnership, which includes historical data, are also important factors to consider. Even more important, if you have been passed over more than once despite assurances, it is time to consider a move.

Firm Brand and Client Targeting

The brand of your firm plays a significant role in your ability to target and secure clients. Consider whether your firm is one of the go-to firms for your practice, as this can impact how successful you can be at building a book. It is also important to evaluate if your practice requires lower billing rates. Ensuring your firm’s brand and rate structures support your client acquisition and practice-building goals is vital to your long-term success in building a practice for yourself. 

Transition to In-House Roles: Firm’s Track Record

If transitioning in-house is a goal, evaluate your firm’s track record in facilitating such moves. Firms that see the long-term advantage in having attorneys go in-house often have strong practices in relevant industries, a robust alumni network, and actively market their support for in-house transitions. It is also important to look at how many attorneys from your firm have gone in-house. There are some firms that are a better springboard to in-house roles.

Cultural Fit and Work-Life Balance

Cultural fit is the biggest driver for associates to move. It encompasses aspects like group dynamics, office location, work hours, and mentorship availability. Associates often face a conflict between personal career needs and loyalty to their firm. Sometimes, proactive efforts can bring change, but often, a lateral move is necessary for better alignment with personal and professional goals.

Relocation as a Career Strategy

Many attorneys plan to relocate for personal or professional reasons, such as family proximity, industry opportunities, work-life balance, or community environment. Relocation allows reassessment of current roles and exploration of options that better align with long-term goals.

Making a lateral move can be daunting for attorneys, especially when they are “mostly” happy. That said, it’s important to continually assess your career against your long-term goals and job satisfaction. Ultimately, the decision to make a lateral move should be guided by a careful evaluation of your current position and how well it aligns with your professional and personal aspirations.

Lateral Search Dos and Don’ts: Tips from Both Sides of the Lateral Coin

Moving firms is a laborious and time-consuming task. Without assistance, your search may sputter and stall. Legal recruiters were instrumental in my two lateral moves, each significantly boosting my compensation and firm prestige. Trying to make these moves independently proved fruitless, underlining the importance of a skilled recruiter.

Choosing the Right Legal Recruiter

As a practicing attorney, I responded to recruiter emails based primarily on the opportunities they presented, often lured by promises of higher compensation, better hours, or work in fields like entertainment, sports, or cyber law. My criteria were simple: (a) an appealing opportunity, and (b) the recruiter graduated law school. Beyond that, I did minimal research.

This approach was too simplistic. A good recruiter acts as your agent, providing practical advice and actively advancing your career goals, rather than merely seeking a quick placement. Essentially, recruiters are brokers, introducing you to firms potentially interested in hiring you. This is a crucial perspective to maintain.

Recruiters sometimes need to temper your unrealistic goals, while other times, they make your dreams a reality, depending on the situation.

Dos and Don’ts from My Experiences

From my journey as an associate using recruiters and now being one, here are some key dos and don’ts:

  • Do review your recruiter’s LinkedIn, website, and articles. A quick check can reveal much about their resources and approach.
  • Don’t choose a recruiter solely for their pedigree. While pedigree can indicate industry knowledge and competence, some of the best recruiters at Lateral Link, for example, don’t have a law school background.
  • Do collaborate with recruiters who align with your career aspirations yet remain realistic about your goals. They should be knowledgeable about the market and provide insightful guidance. That means knowing when to go for it and when to ground expectations in reality. 
  • Don’t work with recruiters who are not solution-focused or try to push you into roles they’re trying to fill. Your lateral search should be a collaborative effort with a recruiter who supports your journey and guides you through the process.
  • Do be judicious about sharing your application materials. A reliable recruiter only submits your application to firms you’ve approved, avoiding potential issues and application conflicts.
  • Don’t engage with too many recruiters simultaneously. This can lead to confusion and difficulties in managing submissions, as well as weakening your position in offer negotiations.
  • Do choose a responsive recruiter who keeps you regularly updated. Navigating job changes is challenging, and a good recruiter will ensure you’re well informed throughout the process.
  • Do work with recruiters who take the time to understand your practice area, history, and preferences, and who prepare you effectively for interviews.
  • Do ask recruiters about their motivations. Some are genuinely passionate about their work, while others may be primarily driven by financial gain. Make your choice accordingly.

Having been both a lateral associate and a recruiter, I’ve gained valuable insights into the process. Moving firms is challenging and stressful, but with the right recruiter, it can be as seamless and stress-free as possible. 

Biglaw Compensation Trends: Milbank Pioneers with Associate Salary Increase

In a landscape of cautious optimism within Biglaw, Milbank has announced an increase in first-year associate salaries to $225,000, setting a new benchmark in legal compensation. This move reflects a confident outlook for 2024, despite the previous year’s volatility in client demand and transactional work. The adjustment, which represents a $10,000 increment, establishes a precedent in a market that has witnessed only conservative financial growth in recent years.

The upward salary revision, effective from January 2024, spans across the firm’s hierarchy, reaching up to $425,000 for more tenured associates. This decision coincides with the announcement of year-end bonuses that echo the figures from the previous cycle, asserting Milbank’s commitment to maintaining competitive compensation in a changing economic climate.

These developments, indicative of Milbank’s resilience and foresight, may serve as a bellwether for the sector’s financial health and the strategic positioning of legal talent. As firms navigate this evolving terrain, the need for astute career management and market readiness becomes increasingly apparent.

Within this context, Movers, Shakers, and Rainmakers provides a platform for legal professionals to understand the shifts in the compensation landscape and to anticipate future trends. The podcast’s latest episode offers a nuanced discussion on the potential ripple effects of Milbank’s salary structure on Biglaw’s ecosystem.

While the series enlightens on market trends, Lateral Link offers a complementary suite of services that facilitate strategic career moves. The insights gleaned from the podcast, coupled with Lateral Link’s expertise in legal recruitment, can empower attorneys to make informed decisions in a market where advanced knowledge translates to competitive advantage.

Tune into Movers, Shakers, and Rainmakers for a discerning analysis of Biglaw’s current state and future outlook. For those contemplating their next career phase, Lateral Link provides the market intelligence and strategic support essential for navigating the intricate legal landscape.