Tag Archives: Legal Recruiter

Evolution of Legal Billing Practices: Navigating Competitive Pricing in Today’s Legal Landscape

The legal industry is at a crossroads, driven by AI, industry consolidation, and evolving client expectations. As we transition from 2023 into 2024, legal professionals wrestle with key pricing concerns: “Am I overcharging? Am I undercharging?” These questions were spotlighted in the recent Twitter vs. Wachtell lawsuit, revealing the intricate dynamics of legal billing practices.

Billing pressures persist in our profession. Achieving a 100% realization rate seems like a distant dream. To navigate these uncertainties, we explore the current trends in legal billing, offering insights for legal professionals grappling with fee structures. A comprehensive understanding of your billing methods can alleviate some pressures of our dynamic profession.

For decades, the hourly rate model has been the bedrock of legal pricing. It assigns monetary value to an attorney’s time and expertise. While it serves complex cases well, it often faces backlash due to cost unpredictability and potential inefficiencies.

In contrast, the flat fee model offers a transparent, predefined cost, eliminating unpredictability. Ideal for routine legal work, it can, however, fall short when dealing with complex cases with unforeseen twists.

To stay competitive, it’s crucial to understand the nuances of industry trends, competitor rates, and client expectations. Regular reassessment of your fee structure ensures you neither overcharge nor undercharge your clients. It also highlights when an overhaul of your billing strategy is due.

The future looks promising for hybrid models that integrate the strengths of both hourly and flat fee billing. These models offer a guaranteed base payment with the option for an hourly rate for additional work. The emergence of value-based billing models shifts the focus from time to perceived value, radically altering our billing perceptions.

The Twitter vs. Wachtell case underscores the importance of understanding and adapting to these evolving trends. Legal professionals must remain current with changing dynamics to ensure fair treatment for clients and appropriate compensation for their work.

Keeping a pulse on competitors’ strategies, regularly evaluating your own billing practices, and adapting as necessary will be essential as we delve into 2024. These shifts will significantly impact the operations of law firms and the value delivered to clients.

Navigating competitive billing practices in this demanding landscape can lighten our professional burdens. By ensuring we’re appropriately compensated, we can stake our claim in the fluctuating terrain of the legal industry while delivering high-quality services to our clients.

Career Advancement in Legal Profession: Exploring Lateral Moves and Reasons Lawyers Switch Firms

Countless attorneys experience satisfaction with their current law firms. However, a perplexing query often surfaces: “Why shoulder the challenge of starting anew or abandon established relationships?” The primary motivation behind such a decision lies in career progression. Progressive lawyers steering their professional journeys recognize the pitfalls of complacency and strive for career evolution that should be accompanied by amplified satisfaction. Though the present conditions might be conducive, they constantly evaluate – can they improve further elsewhere? Delve into these 12 compelling reasons triggering lateral transitions in law firms and assess whether these circumstances echo your professional situation.

  1. Aiming for Improved Partnership Opportunities: Often the driving force behind lateral moves in law firms.
  2. Desiring Less Pressure Towards Partnership: Not everyone aspires to be a partner. An alternate role with reduced up-or-out pressure might be more appealing.
  3. Craving Substantive Work: Are you prematurely categorized into a specific specialty?
  4. Seeking Increased Responsibility: Does your firm’s culture overly value hierarchy?
  5. Yearning for Enhanced Client Interaction and Business Development: Firms have diverse outlooks on associate participation in client development.
  6. Preference for Diverse Industry Exposure: Are you more inclined towards corporate interaction rather than dealing with financial institutions?
  7. Choosing Smaller Boutique Law Firms: Particularly among litigators, boutique firms could offer more sustainable hours and smaller, personalized teams.
  8. Caught in a Demanding Project: Predominantly observed among litigators. Sometimes, a switch to a different firm becomes the only feasible solution!
  9. Relocating to a New City: Are you contemplating a move to a new market for enriched work exposure or client interaction?
  10. Incompatibility with Colleagues: The overarching culture of your firm might not align with your personality or career aspirations.
  11. Eyeing Government or In-House Roles: A lateral transition could pave the way for your dream in-house or government role.
  12. Striving for Better Compensation: A transition to a firm offering industry-standard or even higher remunerations might be possible.

A skilled legal recruiter can provide valuable insights considering your unique experiences, seniority level, prevailing legal market conditions, and anticipated industry trends. After evaluating your options, you might decide to continue with your present firm. The critical point to remember is: take the reins of your career and professional development. Whether you choose a transition or remain with your present firm, ensure it’s a conscious decision, not a mere default option.

Adapting to Market Shifts: U.S. Law Firms in Hong Kong Rethink COLA Strategy

At least three top-tier US law firms in Hong Kong are currently planning to phase out Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) allowances within the next two years, and others are discussing doing the same. The plan is to reduce the payment by 50% in 2024 and to zero by 2025. At least one firm has announced the change internally office-wide, while two others have apparently made the decision internally but have yet to announce to their associates and counsels in Hong Kong.

Will this work? Time will tell, but history suggests these firms are facing an uphill battle to phase out COLA in Hong Kong. This isn’t the first time firms have made moves to rein in COLA. Similar plans have been deployed during previous down cycles. The problem is that unless every firm in the market ends the practice, associates will simply move from firms that reduce COLA to peer firms that maintain it.

If the current hiring downturn lasts for an additional two full years, it is conceivable that no firm would see an advantage in maintaining COLA, while others are phasing it out over two years, and using that policy to attract lateral talent. But a downturn of that length, with both soft and hard hiring freezes going on for three total years, would be unprecedented. It is more likely that the hiring market will pick up in due course at some point in 2024, reestablishing the tight supply dynamics that led firms to offer significant COLA allowances in Hong Kong in the first place. If that happens, firms will have a strong incentive to use COLA as a recruiting tool. And the firms now planning to stop paying it may find themselves reconsidering, especially when their star associates may consider moves next year as their COLA begins to be phased out.

Around ten years ago, two top US firms in Hong Kong made plans to have a three-year tail on their COLA for their US associates, whereby COLA would only be in effect for an associate’s first three years at those firms’ Hong Kong offices. However, around seven years ago, when the scheduled end to COLA for their star associates was looming, both firms quietly continued providing COLA after the three years. One of these two firms completely abandoned the idea of the three-year tail.

Unsurprisingly, firms would rather not make substantial COLA payments, especially in the current down market. There are presently very few associate openings in Biglaw offices in Asia—a major deviation from the norm. Some firms perceive this rare hiring downturn as an opportunity to implement change.

Cost of Living Adjustments: Why Biglaw Offices in Asia Pay US Associates More Than Any Other Region

The market for US-qualified Biglaw associates in Asia has long been unique. As in other regions, Biglaw firms are looking for candidates with top academic credentials and deal experience. But in addition, they look for local language skills—most commonly, fluent Mandarin. This combination of attributes shrinks the eligible candidate pool, and under normal market conditions, competition for the relatively limited number of associates who check all the boxes is intense.

That’s why firms have for many years paid so-called Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) to US-qualified associates working in Asian offices. Describing these payments as COLA is a misnomer, in that they bear no particular relation to cost of living (which is typically in Biglaw Asian markets roughly the same or slightly lower than in New York). Further, there are substantial tax windfalls for associates who land in tax havens such as Singapore and Hong Kong. This is true for both US taxpayers and non-US taxpayers, although the latter’s tax windfall is much larger than the former’s.

Instead, COLA is more accurately understood as simply an increase in base pay, rather than being tied to any cost of living adjustments or living expenses in general.

How much COLA do firms pay?

Before getting into the numbers, allow me to offer some context about my background. I recently joined Lateral Link, but my close association with Biglaw offices in Asia goes back nearly two decades, and over 500 attorney placements have been made in Asia, mostly at top-tier and second-tier US firms.

The table below presents the typical range of annual COLA (in US Dollars) in Hong Kong. To keep things simple, I have listed a Low, Medium, and High value, along with the number of firms paying at that level, among what we consider to be the top 20 US and UK law firms in Hong Kong. Please note that these COLA numbers are basic and do not include additional COLA allowances paid to associates who have children (a minority of firms in Hong Kong do this). Further, it is likely that by this time next year, there will only be one firm in the “High” range, with one of those firms considering lowering COLA a bit and one of those firms planning to phase out COLA. Outside of the handful of firms considering to phase out COLA, there has been no move to lower the COLA below the current low-end range ($60,000 to $95,000) in the Hong Kong market. This has been the range of COLA for the top 20 firms in Hong Kong for more than ten years.

LocationLow (11 Firms)Medium (6 Firms)High (3 Firms)
Hong Kong$60,000 – $70,000$75,000 to $85,000$90,000 to $95,000

One might assume that COLA is for Americans moving to Asia as expats. In the mid-2000s when the COLA system was more basic and the US law firm offices in Asia were very small, that was basically true. But the picture today is more nuanced, especially in Hong Kong—the most competitive market for associate hiring.

COLA is typically offered to attorneys that are in a “US team” (e.g., US Capital Markets, M&A, FCPA, etc.) usually (but not always) led by US-trained and qualified partners. Keep in mind that members of such teams are not necessarily Americans. Many associates are native to the region but are qualified as US lawyers. So a native Hong Kong citizen with an American JD (and with no obligation to pay US taxes) will earn COLA despite living in his or her home jurisdiction.

There are also numerous UK and Australian qualified associates at US firms in Hong Kong that work on US teams and get COLA, regardless of whether they are admitted in any US state.

Interestingly, a minority of US law firms in Hong Kong provide COLA to all or most of their solely Hong Kong-qualified associates. These lawyers are admitted to practice only in Hong Kong and typically grew up in Hong Kong, or at least have been living in Hong Kong their entire legal career. They work side-by-side with US-qualified colleagues who receive COLA, and their firms want to retain them. Accordingly, at these select offices, COLA has effectively transformed into increased base pay for all associates across the board.

Mastering Lateral Hiring Interviews for Your Legal Career: Essential Strategies and Insights

Understanding the Importance of Lateral Hiring Interviews

Navigating the complex web of the legal profession often leads to lateral hiring interviews, a key component of legal career progression. As a managing partner of a prominent Houston law firm highlights, the lateral hiring market remains exceptionally strong. Consequently, mastering these interviews is crucial for those looking to achieve notable advancement in their legal career. These interviews markedly differ from entry-level or on-campus interviews, requiring distinct preparation strategies to maximize success.

Prioritizing Practical Legal Expertise in Lateral Interviews

During these lateral hiring interviews, your practical legal expertise takes center stage. As one Houston law firm managing partner shares, “The deal sheet gets more attention from us than the resume.” However, there’s no need to fret over intricate legal questions as these are seldom asked. Instead, the focus shifts to your professional background, predominantly your legal resume and your past legal experiences, or case history. A thorough review of past cases and clearly articulating your unique role and contributions becomes a fundamental preparation step.

Crafting an Effective Deal Sheet for Lateral Interviews

Assembling a well-structured list of past cases, also known as a “deal sheet” in legal terminology, can significantly enhance your professional profile. Drawing insights from a corporate and securities partner from a renowned New York law firm, focus on three essential aspects when crafting this list: format, substance, and length.

  1. Format: Interviewers often favor case lists arranged by transaction type rather than chronological order. Use this preference to your advantage by placing your most notable legal cases at the top of each category.
  2. Substance: Replace generic terms such as “client” with more specific descriptions, as advised by legal professionals. Highlight aspects that align with the interviewing law firm’s key practice areas and elaborate on your role and contributions.
  3. Length: A comprehensive list that reflects the wide scope of your legal work is typically more appealing than a limited selection of cases.

Upholding Professionalism During Legal Interviews

Despite the evolving workplace norms and a casual attire trend, a formal approach is generally expected during law firm interviews. As one Houston-based law firm partner points out, “Most law firm hirers still expect professional attire because their clients still expect professional attire.”

Conducting Thorough Background Research

Performing background research about the potential law firm employer is another critical preparation step for lateral hiring interviews. Familiarize yourself with the firm’s unique strengths, its distinctive attributes, and the specifics of the department or group you’re interviewing with to leave a positive impression.

Harnessing Effective Communication Skills

Clear and concise articulation is a vital skill that interviewers assess during the hiring process. This skill is especially valued in law firms where associates are expected to interact with budget-conscious clients early in their careers, as per insights from a New York-based law firm partner.

Explaining Your Interest in the Firm

When asked about your interest in the firm, well-thought-out answers are appreciated. Possible reasons may include the desire to specialize in a domain not available at your current firm, the aspiration to diversify your client base, or positive feedback about the firm’s culture.

Evaluating the Prospective Law Firm

Lastly, remember that a lateral hiring interview also provides you with the opportunity to assess the law firm and its professionals. The prospect of mentorship, which is particularly important for junior attorneys, should be part of your evaluation. A partner from a Houston law firm points out that this doesn’t just mean a formal mentorship program, but also assessing whether the interviewers seem supportive of junior colleagues’ professional growth.

Choosing the Right Law Firm for You

Different law firms have unique selling propositions. A partner from a prominent Texas law firm suggests considering firms that emphasize their growth trajectory, entrepreneurial spirit, and dedication to nurturing junior attorneys. Others, as a partner from a renowned New York law firm highlights, may accentuate their unique culture, molded by their client base, and the opportunities available to associates. Recognizing these unique traits and the growth potential within such firms can aid in your lateral career progression in the legal profession.

Making the Most of Your Legal Career

Ready to take the next step in your legal career? Leverage this guide on lateral hiring interviews to make a positive impression and increase your chances of success. For more resources on lateral hiring and to explore potential opportunities, connect with a Lateral Link industry expert today.

Hybrid Work and Generational Divide: Navigating Differences in Modern Law Firm Practices

More than three years after COVID-19 upended where and how we work, law firm offices in some ways resemble the pre-pandemic normal. Attorneys mingle freely at in-person gatherings. Face masks and hand sanitizer have receded. But one thing is still starkly different: just how many desks are unoccupied on any given day.

Return-to-office policies are not uniform

One might have predicted that Biglaw firms would potentially use their return-to-office policies as a recruiting tactic that resulted in uniform policies given the fierce competition for talent and the ensuing (and somewhat uniform) salary increases over the past few years. The competition for talent has cooled as firms have learned to deal with COVID-19, however, and firms are moving towards bringing their attorneys back into the office on at least a hybrid basis. Superficially, it may seem that Biglaw has arrived at something approaching consensus: a survey released in January found that a third of Am Law 100 firms mandate three days per week of in-office presence, with another third encouraging three days in office. But dig a little deeper, and you find a surprising lack of convergence as firms determine what works best for their needs.

For instance, O’Melveny and Myers, like its peer firms, wants attorneys to spend more time in the office. But instead of specifying a set number of days per week, O’Melveny has announced an expectation that lawyers be present in the office for more than half the time over the course of the year. This policy emerged from a series of town halls and surveys, which delivered the clear message that flexibility was important to O’Melveny attorneys.

Even among the firms with a three-day mandate or expectation, there is no consensus on who chooses the days. Some firms have designated “anchor days,” either at an office or practice group level, where the whole team is expected to go in together. Several Morgan Lewis practice groups have recently mandated attendance on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, justifying the decision in part by noting that summer associates will be in the office on those days. Meanwhile, other firms allow lawyers to choose any three days.

And then there is the matter of compliance. Despite supposed “mandates,” noncompliance has been widespread at many firms, with limited attempts at enforcement. Many firms have preferred carrots to sticks, offering incentives such as free lunch to entice lawyers to come in. But some have been more pointed, making payout of annual bonuses contingent upon in-office attendance. Firms taking that stand include: Simpson Thacher, Sidley Austin, Davis Polk, Cahill, and Ropes & Gray.

The generational divide

So why are we seeing a lack of convergence regarding a model for the future of work at law firms? A key factor is generational differences, particularly among seasoned attorneys and junior attorneys.

Firm and practice group leaders entered the profession under very different circumstances from those of today’s junior associates. Two or three decades ago, the notion of a lawyer routinely working from home would have sounded strange. The early-career experiences of today’s senior partners were defined by long hours in the office, yes, but also by substantial in-person mentorship and training.

Given that background, it’s unsurprising that firm leadership is eager for associates to return, both for cultural and developmental reasons. It’s difficult to build culture when attorneys are remote, and effective training in a remote setting is challenging. When law firm leaders consider how they became partners—by creating strong ties with the partnership while they were associates—they struggle to conceive of how a fully remote associate could build comparable relationships and successfully navigate the path to partnership. 

Meanwhile, at the base of the pyramid are Gen Z associates who graduated from law school during the pandemic and began their law firm careers in a fully remote setting. Now that these junior lawyers are (largely) expected to be back in the office, they miss the flexibility. I sometimes receive questions about whether it’s possible to find a fully remote job at a firm. One current Biglaw junior associate recently asked me if he could go to a smaller firm with a lower hours expectation and work remotely. When I brought up the professional development benefits of in-person work for early-career attorneys, he responded that he was not sure if he wanted to practice law long-term, let alone become a law firm partner. He also mentioned that he put a premium on work-life balance and flexibility, which he thought remote work could help him achieve.

This candidate is hardly alone. A recent survey of Gen Z attorneys found that 60% would sacrifice compensation for a flexible work schedule and just 23% aspire to be a law firm partner. Gen Z also prioritizes work-life balance and flexibility.

Having been a judicial law clerk for over a year and a law firm associate for almost five years, I also know that the first five years of practice are critical for skills development, even if partnership is not necessarily in your future. I benefited tremendously from in-person mentorship and training, and I still value my mentorship and training even though I no longer practice law. When candidates ask about fully remote positions, I tell them that some midsize and boutique firms do not have a formal policy for days in the office. But I advise them to consider various types of firms with hybrid schedules, both to keep all their options open and to accelerate their development of transferable skills, for if and when they do leave the law firm track.

Ultimately, the generations are each going to have to give some ground in acknowledgment of the other’s reasonable perspectives. It remains to be seen how firms will treat hybrid or remote work to promote work-life balance and attract (and retain) talent. Whatever the equilibrium is, we haven’t reached it yet.

The Rising Wave of Associate Salaries: Analyzing the Impact on the Legal Industry in 2023

An insightful recent examination of associate remuneration has unveiled a striking surge in first-year associate pay packets since 2021. As of the onset of 2023, the median base salary for a first-year associate touched the landmark of $200,000, a noteworthy escalation of $35,000 (+21.2%) from 2021. The figures also underscore the diverse effects of these raises across various firm sizes, geographical regions, and legal markets. This swell in associate remuneration carries wide-ranging ramifications for the legal industry, encompassing issues related to talent retention and acquisition, fiscal strains on smaller firms, and potential changes in client billing rates.

Escalating Salaries Across the Spectrum

The 2023 Associate Salary Survey has indicated a rise in first-year salaries across all firm sizes since 2021. Intriguingly, smaller firms, housing 100 or fewer lawyers, recorded the steepest growth in median first-year salaries, showing a 29.2% increase from $120,000 in 2021 to $155,000 in 2023. This trend suggests that even compact firms are feeling the heat to augment salaries to remain competitive in the race for legal talent.

Firms employing between 251-500 lawyers saw their median first-year salaries climb by 21.9%, from $160,000 in 2021 to $195,000 in 2023. Likewise, firms housing 701-1,000 lawyers witnessed a 20.6% increment, with median first-year salaries growing from $170,000 in 2021 to $205,000 in 2023.

The most substantial dollar rise was observed in firms with 501-700 lawyers, with median first-year salaries soaring from $155,000 in 2021 to $200,000 in 2023 (+$45,000), a 29.0% augmentation. This data points out that mid-sized firms are also making noteworthy adjustments to their salary structures to keep pace with the dynamic legal market.

In the case of the most sizable firms, those hosting more than 1,000 lawyers, the median first-year salary touched $215,000 in 2023, a 23.3% rise from $174,000 in 2021. While these firms were the sole entities to report such elevated median salaries, their sway over the rest of the market is substantial, as they account for 75.0% of all first-year salaries in this firm size category.

Overall, the salary augmentations in large firms, paired with rising inflation, have exerted pressure on smaller and mid-sized firms to amplify their salaries as well. This pattern illustrates the extensive effect of the “talent wars” and the market’s reaction to the escalating demand for proficient legal professionals.

Geographical Influence on Salaries

Geography continues to significantly influence salary variations across regions, cities, and states. The 2023 Associate Salary Survey provides analyses for 26 individual cities and additional states and regions, revealing a wide spectrum of law firm compensation. Median first-year salaries by city oscillate between $145,000 and $215,000.

Eleven cities now boast a median starting salary of $215,000: Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles/Orange County, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and the Washington, DC area. These cities are spread across different regions, reflecting the flourishing legal markets in these areas.

In locations outside of the 26 major cities featured in the report, the $215,000 starting salaries are found less frequently. The highest median first-year associate base salary in these smaller U.S. cities and towns was in the Northeast ($170,000), trailed by the Midwest and West, both at $165,000. The South reported the lowest salaries, with a median first-year salary of $135,000. This regional disparity underscores the necessity of considering local market dynamics when setting salaries.

Moreover, the most commonly reported first-year associate base salary across all firm sizes was $215,000, accounting for 42.7% of all salaries. This further underlines the influence of major legal markets and large firms on salary trends throughout the industry.

The Ripple Effect on Summer Associates

The escalation in associate salaries also cast a significant impact on second-year summer associates. Their median weekly salary witnessed a robust growth of 13.4%, elevating from $3,075 in 2021 to $3,550 in 2023. This indicates that law firms are revising their compensation packages not only for full-time associates but also for summer associates to maintain a competitive edge in the legal talent market.

Furthermore, the rise in summer associate salaries could potentially sway law students’ decisions when choosing firms for their summer internships. Consequently, firms offering higher summer associate salaries may attract more high-achieving law students, further fueling the competition among law firms.

Beyond salary adjustments, some firms may also enhance the overall summer associate experience by offering unique professional development opportunities, networking events, and mentorship programs. These non-monetary benefits could serve as differentiating factors for firms in the eyes of law students, helping them attract and retain top talent amidst rising salary expectations.

Rippling Effects on the Legal Industry

Talent Retention and Acquisition: The rapid salary increases reflect the fierce competition for legal talent. Law firms must continue to offer competitive compensation packages to attract and retain the best talent.

Financial Strain on Smaller Firms: The salary increases in large firms and rising inflation have created financial pressure on smaller firms to boost their salaries. Smaller firms may need to explore alternative strategies, such as offering non-monetary benefits, to stay competitive in the talent market.

Regional Disparities: The geographical influence on salaries underscores the need for firms to consider regional cost of living and market factors when determining their compensation packages.

Impact on Clients and Legal Services: The increased salaries may lead to higher billing rates, which could affect the affordability of legal services for clients. Law firms may need to look for ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs to maintain client relationships.

The notable increase in associate salaries since 2021 underscores the fierce competition for legal talent and emphasizes the need for law firms to adapt swiftly. As the legal industry continues to evolve, firms must meticulously consider their compensation strategies and maintain flexibility to attract and retain top-notch professionals. If you’re seeking a more personalized understanding of these industry shifts and how they can potentially impact your legal career trajectory, connect with a Lateral Link industry expert. We are poised to provide you with tailored advice and guidance, helping you navigate your career in this ever-changing landscape and ensure you secure exactly what you’re looking for in your legal career.

Navigating the Legal Industry: In-Depth Guide for Law Students and Legal Practitioners

Embarking on a legal career can be both challenging and rewarding. This comprehensive guide delves into law school, selecting a law firm, law firm life, the lateral market, and maintaining a successful career throughout. By understanding the intricacies of each aspect, you can make more informed decisions and excel in your legal profession.

Prioritize Your Law School Grades: Strong academic performance in law school is crucial for securing prestigious summer associate positions that can lead to permanent roles. Maintaining high grades throughout law school is important, as second- and third-year grades can impact lateral moves or in-house opportunities, especially for litigators. Prospective employers will request your transcript when applying for lateral attorney positions and, in some cases, even for partner candidates.

Consider a Federal Clerkship for Litigators: Aspiring litigators should consider the value of a federal clerkship, as it can enhance your legal career, particularly if you plan to work in a litigation boutique or prestigious law firm. A clerkship can be completed before starting your legal career or as a break from law firm work. For corporate associates, a clerkship may not hold the same weight and might not count towards your years of experience.

Choose a Prestigious Law Firm: The prestige of the law firm where you begin your career plays a significant role in your ability to lateral to another firm or move to a company. While smaller firms may offer better hands-on experience and training, prospective employers often prioritize candidates with experience in prestigious firms.

Select the Right Practice Area: Choosing the right practice area involves considering factors such as your personality, lifestyle, academic background, geographic preferences, and future goals. Assess whether you enjoy the substance of the work, can handle the personalities and work culture in a specific practice area, and have the necessary educational background and aptitude.

Understand Law Firm Structures: Understanding law firm structures, such as lockstep firms and two-tier partnership tracks, is essential when making career decisions. Lockstep firms may foster cooperation and have more institutional clients, while two-tier partnership tracks can offer opportunities to prove your worth as a business-building partner.

Manage Your Professional Development: Take charge of your professional development, as law firms may not always prioritize your long-term growth. Be proactive in seeking opportunities for growth and learning within the firm and externally, such as attending workshops, conferences, and networking events.

Stay Informed in Your Field: Stay updated on the latest firm and industry news to remain competitive and knowledgeable about your field. Be aware of emerging practice areas, firm financial performance, and potential opportunities for growth or lateral moves.

Prepare for the Lateral Market: The lateral market requires you to ensure your résumé, deal sheet, and firm bio are always up to date and easy to understand. Having a clear record of your experience and accomplishments can increase your chances of being contacted by recruiters and considered for lateral opportunities.

Invest Time in Interview Preparation: Invest time in preparing for interviews, researching the firm or company, and practicing common interview questions. Maintain a positive attitude during the interview process, avoiding negativity or complaints about current or former employers. Respond promptly to interview requests to convey interest and enthusiasm.

By understanding the intricacies of law school, selecting the right law firm, and navigating the legal industry, you can make more informed decisions and thrive in your legal career. Keep these tips in mind as you progress through your journey and remember to be proactive in managing your professional development.

Partner Group Hiring: A Common Alternative to Traditional Expansion Strategies

2022 was a difficult year for major law firms, with considerably reduced opportunity to drive profit growth as compared to 2021. It’s no surprise, then, that the more challenging environment is influencing firms’ strategies for expanding their partnerships. With reduced margin for error, firms are mindful of the risks inherent in the traditional methods of hiring individual lateral partners or of merging with another firm. According to our clients and many of the law firm leaders with whom we work closely, hiring groups of partners has emerged as a sweet-spot alternative.

Hiring partner groups is less risky than individual lateral hiring

Hiring partners in groups can mitigate many of the risks associated with traditional lateral hiring. Take cultural fit, for example. A lateral partner hire who turns out to be a poor cultural match can do real damage to the cohesion of a firm and, in the final analysis, undermines the very purpose behind their hire. A 2021 survey by ALM Intelligence and Decipher Investigative Intelligence found that 29% of firms have had a lateral partner leave due to cultural fit issues with other partners. Rather than take the risk of integrating a single new lateral partner, firms often prefer to bring on a group of partners with a proven ability to work together, expecting that the group will replicate its existing equilibrium in the new firm and, thereby, contribute as efficiently as possible to the bottom line.

Group hiring also arguably offers greater security that claimed portable books of business are real. Nearly half of respondents to the ALM/Decipher survey reported that the majority of their firm’s partner laterals underperformed in relation to their stated book of business. The survey found that more than two-thirds of law firms have had a lateral partner leave for this reason.

Group moves improve these outcomes significantly. When a group moves together, clients are more likely to move with them and there are several additional indicators that portables will be solid. These range from such soft indicators as the trust shown by associates, counsels, and service partners moving alongside their rainmaking colleagues to harder indicators available when cross-referencing the business case provided by each partner in their lateral questionnaires.

Lastly, group hiring is also more efficient, offering more bang for the buck and swifter growth than a piecemeal approach – saving both time and money.

Group hiring is more targeted—and certain—than pursuing a merger

In theory, the greatest bang for the buck expansion strategy is a merger; but although we have seen some merger activity this year among smaller firms, and some attempts among larger ones, too, the specter of failure often looms large and a firm may invest significant energy in the process, only to walk away with nothing (take, for example, the recent merger attempts between Shearman Sterling and Hogan Lovells or O’Melveny and Allen & Overy). Worse yet, failed mergers often attract unwanted attention from competing firms looking to take advantage of any resulting turmoil by siphoning off spooked talent – the opposite of growth! Group hiring is less complex than conducting merger talks and a deal is more likely to be reached. In addition, the hiring firm can be more selective about the partners it takes on. Underperformers are less likely to be admitted through a group hire than through a larger-scale merger.

Partner group hiring is ideal for secondary market expansion

As we have previously discussed, we are in the midst of accelerated Biglaw expansion into new or smaller markets across the country. Consider the options available to a firm committed to opening a new office in Miami or Austin or Salt Lake City, with no prior presence in those markets. While they may, in the past, have hired two or three individual lateral partners from local firms and transferred some of the firm’s current partners to the new office in the hope it all jells successfully, firms are now more inclined to hire a group of local partners and use that group as the anchor for the new office, to be supplemented by some internal transfers.

Mintz Levin’s entry into the Toronto market is one example. This week we learned that the firm’s new office will be anchored by a group of three partners from leading Canadian firm Torys. Mintz has also hired a Toronto-based Dentons partner who was previously at Torys.

Expansion into a new market is a high-stakes move, with considerable reputational risk. A group with existing local client relationships that already works together productively provides a strong initial platform. Firms’ desire to maximize their likelihood of success in new markets is a key driver of the partner group hiring trend.

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If you are interested in learning more about firms’ partner hiring strategies, please contact me.

How To Write an Effective Cover Letter

Every candidate for a lateral or in-house role should write a cover letter. This is true even if you are working with a recruiter, and the recruiter is promoting your candidacy through other channels, such as phone calls. Why? It’s crucial that you give your recruiter any and all information that may be helpful in marketing you to the prospective employer.

I don’t offer candidates a cover letter template because it’s essential that the letter not sound insincere or formulaic. The letter should be authentic and, if signed by you, in your own voice. If you use the same cover letter to apply for multiple positions, at least tweak the text for each employer and re-read each version in full before sending. It’s easy to spot a non-tailored letter—this conveys laziness and disinterest.

Crafting a great cover letter starts with preparation. You want to be clear on what the letter is trying to achieve before you write it.

  1. Read the job description. Read it line by line. I cannot stress enough the importance of tailoring your cover letter to the specific job and in particular to the required and preferred qualifications listed.
  2. Research the firm/company. You must ensure that your stated interest in that employer will resonate with the reader. Make sure you have enough context to convey convincingly that your skills will help this firm achieve its strategic goals.  
  3. Think of your cover letter as a first-round interview. What questions might you anticipate? You will want to address (if applicable):
    a. Why are you looking to make a move, and why specifically do you want to work here, with us?
    b. If applicable, why do you want to move to the new city? What personal or professional ties do you have to the new location?
    c. If applicable, why do you want to move from a firm to an in-house role, or vice versa?
  4. Above all, your cover letter must answer the question, “How are you going to add value to our firm/company?” In your cover letter and in your interviews, remember that it’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for them. A prospective employer will be turned off by candidates who only talk about how this move will advance their own personal goals.

Once you fully understand the opportunity and are clear on how you can add value, it’s time to start drafting. There are a number of common pitfalls to avoid.

  1. Be concise. It’s a letter, not an essay.
  2. Ensure that the letter is well-structured. Keep it simple: an opening sentence/paragraph, your “arguments,” and a conclusion. Your cover letter will offer substantive information, but it will also be judged as a representation of your writing and communication skills.
  3. Connect the dots. Do not assume the relevance of your experience is obvious. You may need to help the employer get from Point A to Point B to see that you do indeed have the relevant experience.
  4. Remember the old adage “Show, don’t tell.” Give concrete examples, especially for your relevant soft skills. There is nothing more annoying than reading “I have great interpersonal skills” with nothing to back up that claim. Consider:
    a. What precise skills or experiences do you have that qualify you for this job?
    b. What do you bring to the table that makes you unique?
    c. Why should we hire you instead of your competition?
  5. Be thoughtful about tone. Err on the side of formality, but avoid sounding pretentious or unrelatable. If you are applying to a start-up, perhaps a less ceremonious tone would be more appropriate?
  6. Do not simply repeat what is on your resume. You may want to highlight the most important points from your resume that match the job description, but the cover letter is primarily an opportunity to include relevant information not in your resume.
  7. Explain moves and gaps. If you have made numerous moves already, have left an employer after a short amount of time, or are currently unemployed, get ahead of the issue. No need for a complete memoir, but failing to address the matter may cause the prospective employer to suspect that you’re hiding something.
  8.  If you are applying for a lateral law firm position and your class year for promotion purposes is different from your JD year, be sure to highlight this.
  9. Proofread. Absolutely no typos!

After you’ve drafted, revised, and proofread (go do that once more, just in case!), follow best practices in sending the letter.

  1. Try to find the appropriate recipient’s name. I am always turned off by “To Whom it May Concern” letters.
  2. This tip is from my friend who is a senior executive with a large bank: make your cover letter and attached materials forwardable! Send everything in a clean email (separate from any personal chit-chat if you are sending to a personal contact) with the cover letter in the body of the email and not as a separate attachment.

A recruiter can help you decide which information is appropriate for a cover letter and which is not. Be sure to give your recruiter all the information and trust them to guide you. (If you don’t trust your recruiter, get a new one.) If you need visa sponsorship, you cannot start a new job within the next month or two, or you have any other complications to your job search, let your recruiter know upfront.

Will a good cover letter really move the needle? Realistically, it may only make a difference to a small percentage of applications. But why not give every job application your best shot?

Questions to Ask Your Interviewer in a Lateral Interview

Are you a law firm associate preparing for lateral interviews?  If there’s one thing I can guarantee, it’s that your interviewer will ask at some point: “Do you have any questions for me?”  This article will help ensure you don’t meet that invitation with an awkward silence.

Asking thoughtful questions has two benefits.  First, you score points with the interviewer by demonstrating your genuine interest in the firm.  Second, you can elicit useful information to help determine whether the firm is the right fit: don’t forget that you are interviewing the firm, just as the firm is interviewing you.

Asking questions helps create a genuine dialogue

Before delving into what constitutes a good question, it’s worth pausing to talk about the overall interview dynamic.  The most successful interviews are dialogues, not depositions.  Your goal is to establish a natural back-and-forth, with both parties eliciting and conveying information, building on each other’s points.  Don’t feel you need the interviewer’s permission to ask a question.  Instead, play your part in making the interview a genuine conversation.  

Naturally, you want to leave space for the interviewer to ask most of the questions in the first part of the interview.  But there’s no reason to hold all your queries until the end, especially if you have a question that follows directly from something the interviewer has just said.  The more seamlessly you weave in questions throughout the interview, the more likely your interviewer will leave with the impression that it was a great conversation and that spending more time with you would be enjoyable.

Formulating intelligent questions

Whoever said there’s no such thing as a stupid question must not have been talking about law firm interviews.  Taking the time to learn about the firm and formulate some informed, targeted questions is an important part of preparing for your interview.

Speaking generally, good questions tend to invite the interviewer to elaborate on their perspective about a topic that arises in the interview or to share insights from their personal experience.  These questions help build rapport.  Conversely, asking questions that seem overly formulaic or divorced from the interview conversation will tend to damage rapport: you risk giving the impression that either you weren’t listening closely or you weren’t interested in what the interviewer had to say.  Whatever you do, don’t ask for information that is readily available on the firm’s website!

Law firms and in-house legal departments want to hire lawyers who are genuinely excited to join their team.  Asking specific, informed questions that show you’ve diligently researched your interview panel and the firm will demonstrate real interest.  Questions that suggest an appetite to stay for the long haul are especially favored.  Asking about topics like performance reviews, feedback, mentoring, training, and business development signals to the interviewer your interest in building a career at the firm.

Keep in mind that most people — and especially attorneys — love to talk about themselves.  So be sure to ask questions about your interviewer’s practice.  In particular, this is an opportunity to communicate your interest in the firm by asking about information you’re able to find from the interviewer’s web bio, firm website, LinkedIn page, or even public records such as PACER for a litigator or Pitchbook for transactional lawyers.  For instance, if you’re interviewing with a litigation partner, check out the representative matters section of the partner’s web bio and ask about a recent case or investigation they handled.  If the interviewer is ranked in Chambers or Legal 500, mention that you saw the write-up and ask about a deal referenced there.

A particularly savvy form of question, when executed well, is one that both highlights something you bring to the table and confirms that that attribute or experience will be valued at the interviewer’s firm.  This could be a skill, an achievement, or an aspect of your personality.  You can both ask an intelligent question and simultaneously steer the conversation toward a point you wish to make about your interests or qualifications.  An example: “I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to take a handful of fact witness depositions at my current firm, which I really enjoyed.  Would the team consider giving me the opportunity to handle more senior tasks if I prove I’m ready for them?”

Remember that your time is limited, so you want to be strategic about how you allocate questions across interviewers.  For example, partners will likely be better equipped to answer questions about the matters and clients you will be staffed on and the firm’s growth trajectory, while associates will be better equipped to answer questions about the firm culture, training, mentoring, and reviews.

What to ask

Below is a non-exhaustive list of sample questions to use as a starting point.  In addition, you should feel free to ask the hiring partner (or the recruiting coordinator) about the next step in the interview process and when the firm anticipates deciding who will advance to the next stage.

Role, Team, and Nature of the Work

  • Is this a growth position or are you replacing someone? 
  • What are your (or the team’s) biggest staffing needs right now?
  • What are you looking for in this role?  For example, what qualities do you think make for a successful mid-level corporate associate at this firm (or on this team)?
  • Will I be working primarily with a particular partner or team?
    • If not, how are associates staffed on matters?
    • If yes, who makes up the team?  Are there particular clients/matters/cases/deals that I will be working on immediately?  Over the next year?

Firm Culture, Clients, and Growth Plans

  • How would you describe the firm’s culture generally and the culture in this practice group?
    • [If interviewing outside of the firm’s main office] Do you think the culture in this office aligns with the culture firmwide?
  • Who are the firm’s biggest clients?
    • Does the firm have institutional clients in [your practice area]?  Or is developing business from new clients emphasized?  
    • How does the firm support and encourage cross-selling within the firm?
  • What can you tell me about the firm’s future plans?  Are there plans to grow, and if so, how do you think the firm will look in the next 5 or 10 years?  Any specific growth plans you can share relating to our practice area?
    • If the firm has recently merged, acquired a firm, or expanded into a new market, work that into your question.  For example, you could say, “I read that the firm recently opened offices in Texas and Miami.  Does the firm have plans to continue expanding in the Southeast?”

Integration, Training, Mentoring, Evaluations, and Promotions

  • How does the firm handle integration of lateral associate hires, both here in this office and firmwide?  Is there a formal integration program or is it more informal?  
  • Do you have any recent lateral hiring success stories you can share?
  • [If the interviewer lateraled to the firm] How was your experience as a lateral hire?
    • How did the firm support your integration?  
    • Were there formal events or was it more informal? 
  • [Ask about success stories for other lateral hires, such as lateral hires who have made partner at the firm.  If you’ll be working with a particular team, consider asking if any lateral hires have made partner from that team or in that practice area.  However, if you get the sense that your interviewer isn’t prepared to answer these questions, don’t put them on the spot.  You can always ask to speak to successful lateral associate hires after you’ve received an offer and are evaluating it.]
  • What training opportunities are available for associates in my practice area?  Is there a formal training program or is it more informal?  Does the firm offer access to outside training resources, such as litigation skills courses offered by the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA)? 
  • How does the group/office/firm handle mentoring (formal and informal)?
  • Does the firm do formal evaluations on an annual or semi-annual basis?  Will I receive more immediate feedback on my work product in between?
  • What is the typical path to partner for a lateral hire?
    • Are there objective criteria/benchmarks that I’ll be expected to achieve to make partner? 
    • [If you are a senior associate] When will I first be eligible for partnership consideration?