Tag Archives: Legal Recruiting

Planning for a Legal Career Overseas: An Update for 2022

Last Thursday alone, I heard from two attorneys looking to move overseas because they don’t want their children to have to participate in “active shooter” drills in school. It seems like an appropriate time to offer an update on the legal hiring landscape for U.S. JDs looking to move overseas.

In 2014, I posted a 3-part series on Planning for a Legal Career Overseas: 

I encourage you to read these posts as my general guidelines still hold true today. But we have seen some small shifts in the hiring landscape in recent years. What has changed? I have structured this update based on the most common questions I’m asked: 

What if I’m not a capital markets lawyer?

While the roles for U.S. JDs overseas are still overwhelmingly for capital markets transactional work, the demand for capital markets attorneys has evolved. We are seeing fewer roles that require high yield debt experience specifically and fewer capital markets opportunities in Europe outside of London. In Madrid, for example, it may be difficult to justify bringing on a full-time U.S. associate. The good news is that I am seeing more opportunities outside the usual capital markets roles, especially in London. For example, I’m working with top international firms: 

  • in London looking for junior to mid-level U.S. patent litigators
  • in London, Paris, Sydney, and Melbourne looking for mid-level U.S. project finance lawyers
  • in London looking for U.S. technology transactions lawyers
  • in Sydney and Melbourne looking for mid-level U.S. M&A lawyers
  • in London looking for junior to mid-level U.S. private funds and PE M&A lawyers
  • in Singapore and Hong Kong, looking for mid-to-senior level US PE funds associate roles. In Hong Kong, looking for mid-level life sciences corporate transactions associates.

Can I work overseas for a U.S. office as a remote attorney?

Probably not. Most firms that advertise “remote” roles are not able to accommodate remote from outside the U.S., or oftentimes even remote from certain U.S. jurisdictions where they do not currently have operations and/or where you are not barred. There are some exceptions. In particular, I am working with a corporate law boutique that is open to remote work from overseas for the right senior associate/counsel-level attorney. 

It is worth noting also that many offices in Europe, in particular, went back to in-office work long ago. Remote work is not as much in the culture of these offices, and they may not be as flexible with remote or hybrid work as U.S. offices have become. 

What are signing bonuses looking like for overseas roles?

Unfortunately, the overseas markets will not generally offer signing bonuses. In fact, for many overseas opportunities, you will need to go on the local pay scale. This is true most often for non-capital markets roles. Many firms will, however, pay for your relocation.

Can I go in-house overseas?

These opportunities exist, but they are very difficult to land. Most U.S. lawyers I know who are working overseas were either transferred overseas internally or were already working with a firm in that foreign city before moving in-house. Keep in mind also that in-house roles overseas will often pay at the local pay scale.

I’m a U.S. JD working overseas and looking to move home to the U.S. Is now a good time to move?

Absolutely! There are many reasons why now is the right time: 

  • Interviews are still generally over Zoom so being overseas is not as much of a disadvantage as in the past.
  • The market in the U.S., especially for mid-level to senior corporate associates, is still very busy but slowing down, so it could be risky to wait.
  • The more senior you get, the more difficult it will be to move back.

I am not a U.S. JD but I hear the U.S. market is busy. What are my options for moving to the U.S.?

Unfortunately,  opportunities for non-JDs are still rare, even for those with U.S. LLMs and bar admission. The exception may be if you are a corporate lawyer and already have a U.S. passport or green card, or are from Canada, Mexico, Australia, or another country not subject to the H-1B lottery system.

***

While we have seen some small shifts in the opportunities for U.S. JDs looking to work overseas, we are not seeing as dramatic a shift as we are seeing in the U.S. market. Your options for working overseas depend on your specific skills and experience. If you are a U.S. JD looking to move overseas, please contact me for an informational chat. If you’re a U.S. JD candidate planning ahead, good for you! I’d love to chat. If you’re a U.S. JD currently working overseas and planning for a move back to the U.S., now is the time to start the process. Please reach out! I can be reached at .  

California Market Update: Plentiful Office Openings, Strong Associate Demand

In the midst of the pandemic-fuelled narrative about an exodus from California, a funny thing happened: several Biglaw firms took the opportunity to enter the California market for the first time. Demand for associate and counsel hires was red hot in 2021 and remains strong now, with both the new entrants and hometown California firms hunting for lateral talent.

A wave of new entrants

Some California lawyers have of course taken the opportunity to relocate in the pandemic-induced reshuffling. Markets like Austin and Salt Lake City have grown impressively, attracting both major firms and California-trained attorneys. But in the same period, some big-name lawyers have moved into the Golden State as prominent firms aggressively expand their California offerings.

Debevoise & Plimpton offers an instructive case study. Before 2021, the firm had never had a west coast office, despite its many years of serving major California clients. So Debevoise attracted attention when it announced last year that it was relocating 14 attorneys to San Francisco, including M&A co-chair Michael Diz and IP litigation chair David Bernstein. The firm has since bolstered its Northern California ranks with locally-hired partners such as former Skadden IP litigation co-chair Jay Neukom and longtime SEC lawyer Kristin Snyder.

Debevoise has plenty of company sensing opportunities in California. Fellow New York firm Paul, Weiss joined Debevoise in San Francisco, while Cleary Gottlieb set up shop in both San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Two Magic Circle firms arrived in the Bay Area, with Freshfields opening a Silicon Valley office and Allen & Overy setting up three California locations in the space of a year: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley. Firms with some existing California presence also decided to expand in 2021. After just over a decade of operating in Los Angeles, Jenner & Block opened in San Francisco. Willkie expanded to Los Angeles, building on its existing San Francisco and Silicon Valley offices.

It remains to be seen how these new outposts will fare over the longer term. But one advantage of moving into the Bay Area in 2021 was relatively attractive pricing on commercial real estate, in the midst of uncertainty over the future office space needs of the region’s tech companies. That may give the new entrants some cushion as they continue to build their California client bases.

Continued lateral hiring opportunities

So what does all this mean for associate and counsel lateral hiring? On the whole, the California market remains healthy across the board. Granted, the market has calmed a bit from the unprecedented frenzy of 2021, but there are still numerous opportunities across multiple practice areas.

Geographically, demand is fairly balanced between the Bay Area and Southern California.  Specifically, there are currently around 900 associate and counsel openings in each of those regions. (For comparison, there are around 1,100 in New York.)

Demand for corporate associates is no longer at the frenzied pace it was last year, but it remains steady. We have seen a steady increase in litigation and real estate openings in recent months. Across all practice areas, the greatest need is for midlevel as well as senior associates, with the sweet spot in the range of 2-5 years of experience.

Firms have this year taken the opportunity to rebuild their summer associate programs after two summers of scaled-down (and largely remote) programs. Many firms are hosting their largest summer classes ever, and almost all are having in-person summer associate programs.

The return to in-person summer programs is consistent with a broader move towards imposing some limits on remote work options. By national standards, California firms generally have relatively flexible remote work policies. For example, Cooley recently announced that it would not require attorneys to return to the office even though the firm’s offices have fully reopened as of the beginning of June. However, firms have generally declined to follow Quinn Emmanuel’s lead in allowing associates full remote flexibility—working anywhere in the country for as long as they would like. Nonetheless, firms recognize that five days in the office is not a viable demand in the current healthy lateral market.

A good time to consider a move to California

Nobody can predict the economy’s future direction with certainty, but by historical standards, it’s still an excellent time to pursue a lateral move to California. As the recent entry of so many firms illustrates, the growth of other markets has not materially damaged California’s appeal as a place to build a cutting-edge legal practice.  If you are interested in learning more about the California legal market, please do not hesitate to contact me or one of my California colleagues.

The 2022 Milton Handler Lecture: Refocusing Antitrust Enforcement On Competition

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter last week delivered highly anticipated remarks in person at the New York City Bar Association, where he was the keynote speaker of the 2022 Milton Handler Lecture. The head of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, Mr. Kanter has been widely expected to take a vigorous enforcement approach. His May 18 speech was an opportunity to signal more explicitly what that might look like. And although he avoided any comment on specific fact patterns, his remarks made clear that busy times are ahead for the antitrust bar. 

Under Mr. Kanter’s leadership the touchstone of civil antitrust enforcement will be “protecting competition.” This marks an intentional departure from the “consumer welfare standard” that has predominated since the 1980s. In Mr. Kanter’s view, “consumer welfare is a catchphrase, not a standard.” It “systematically biases antitrust toward underenforcement” by neglecting to acknowledge the breadth of objectives that the Sherman and Clayton Acts were originally intended to pursue. “Senator Sherman himself expressed a goal of protecting not only consumers, but also sellers of necessary inputs, such as farmers.” Mr. Kanter noted that the Supreme Court endorsed this broad conception in the 1958 Northern Pacific case, when it described the Sherman Act as a “comprehensive charter of economic liberty.”

Mr. Kanter argued that in addition to unjustifiably narrowing the scope of antitrust enforcement, the consumer welfare standard is unintuitive and cumbersome to administer. “It cannot be that a business trying to understand the legality of its merger must undertake months of analysis to produce a complex simulation model, or that a court must decide an antitrust case by deciding among dueling consultants’ white papers reporting on simulations.”

Rather, Mr. Kanter believes we must “get back to first principles and focus on the policies that Congress was trying to advance in passing the antitrust laws.” Assessment of the competitive effects of a merger should include “real-world evidence, economics, expertise, and common sense.” As Mr. Kanter put it, if “somebody tells you that the NL East looks competitive this year, you understand what they mean.”

Mr. Kanter took the opportunity to put companies on notice that his team “will remain vigilant and undeterred,” noting that the Department has already sought to block anticompetitive deals in the airline and healthcare sectors. “Companies that test our resolve in these and other areas do so at their own risk and will continue to confront aggressive antitrust enforcement. As one of my predecessors explained, some deals should never leave the boardroom.”

The event marked the latest installment of a distinguished antitrust lecture series that dates back nearly half a century, and it was the first Handler Lecture since the pandemic. Craig Brown, CEO of Bridgeline Solutions (sister company of Lateral Link) and Co-Chair of the NYC Bar’s Handler Lecture Subcommittee identified Mr. Kanter as a potential speaker and met with him to explain the Handler Lecture’s storied history. Mr. Kanter graciously agreed to participate. Craig’s connection to Milton Handler goes back decades, to when Craig was an antitrust & litigation associate with Kaye Scholer and Professor Handler was still a practicing named partner of the firm (Kaye Scholer Fierman Hays & Handler).

Craig joined hosts Zach Sandberg and David Lat on this week’s episode of Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers. They discussed Mr. Kanter’s remarks, as well as Craig’s trajectory from antitrust lawyer to Bridgeline Solutions CEO. Continuing the antitrust theme, the hosts also talked about Covington & Burling’s hiring this week of partner Ryan Quillian, formerly the Deputy Assistant Director of the Technology Enforcement Division at the Federal Trade Commission.

How To Work Effectively With A Legal Recruiter

Let’s be honest: lawyers like to complain about legal recruiters. And hey, I get it! Sometimes lateral candidates have bad recruiter experiences, through no fault of their own. But without excusing the unprofessional behavior that some recruiters engage in, it’s important to recognize that the candidate/recruiter relationship is a two-way street. It’s highly advisable to treat your recruiter considerately and professionally — not only is this the right thing to do, but it also maximizes your recruiter’s ability to effectively advocate for you.

To some extent, this is basic common sense (or should be)!  But to be fair, the lateral market can be stressful, and sometimes candidates may not be fully cognizant of the effects of their actions. So it’s worth laying out a few best practices that you should follow if you decide to work with a recruiter.

Be open and honest. This is the foundation for a productive, trust-based relationship with your recruiter. Some of the conversation will cover very standard terrain. How would you describe your experience and skill set? What are your short- and long-term career goals? What are your compensation expectations? Other aspects may be more awkward to discuss. Have you ever been fired? Have you recently worked with another recruiter? Have you applied to certain firms in the past? This is all important context for your recruiter to have. Remember: you and your recruiter are on the same team. The more you tell us, the more effectively we can frame your candidacy.

Communicate often. Part of being open and honest is being communicative when circumstances change. Have you adjusted your goals? Did your current work or compensation situation change recently? That’s fine, but you need to tell us. It isn’t helpful to have a recruiter pitching you to firms based on outdated information.

Be loyal. If you are targeting law firm roles, only work with one recruiter at a time. At the outset, it’s advisable to speak to a few recruiters to get a sense of which one feels like the best fit. But once you find a recruiter you feel you can trust, stick with that person. Law firms very rarely offer recruiters exclusive roles, so working with multiple recruiters is of no practical benefit (and in fact, can complicate your job search). Note that in-house roles are a different story. These are often filled through exclusive recruiter arrangements, so if you are going in-house it’s fine to work with more than one recruiter to gain access to a wider range of roles.

Be considerate and respectful. Be aware that recruiters only get paid if we place you with a new employer. When we invest time to help you with resume revisions or provide extensive interview coaching and career counseling, we do so with the expectation that you’re serious about working with us. If you aren’t certain you want to work with a particular recruiter, it’s extremely inconsiderate to mislead that person and take advantage of their services. Most especially, please understand that it’s highly unethical to learn about an opportunity from a recruiter and then go behind our back by submitting an application directly or through a friend who works at the firm. Don’t be that person.

Be responsive and committed. We get it, you are busy and working long hours. Many of us are. But you need to help us help you. Respond to our emails and phone calls, even if it’s just to let us know you’re tied up and will follow up with a response at a later time. If you agree to an interview, follow through on that commitment by showing up on time. If you promise to send a recruiter your resume by a certain date, either keep your promise or give a heads up that you’ll need a few more days. Don’t ghost a recruiter after you’ve agreed to work with us or after we’ve helped you. If you change your mind, that’s okay, it happens. But do your recruiter the courtesy of letting us know. It only takes a second to respond to an email.  

Be professional. This last one is a bit of a catch-all, and the importance of it cannot be overstated enough. It applies not just to your dealings with recruiters, but to everyone you interact with in the lateral hiring process. Keep in mind that the legal industry is relatively small, and your reputation will follow you. The bridges you build (or burn) while in the recruiting process may affect your career years from now in unexpected ways. Make sure you leave a positive and professional impression. At some point in the future, you’ll be happy you did.

Female Representation in Biglaw Partnerships — A Long Way to Go

Disproportionate attrition of female attorneys in Biglaw is hardly a new problem. As a 2019 ABA and ALM report on the issue noted, “entering associate classes have been comprised of approximately 45% women for several decades.” Indeed, at 5 of the top 20 Am Law firms (by gross revenue), female lawyers now constitute a majority of associates:

Firm% of Female Associates
Baker McKenzie53.4%
Norton Rose Fulbright53.0%
Morgan Lewis50.8%
Hogan Lovells50.1%
Jones Day50.1%

But when it comes to partnerships, representation of women is substantially lower. Among those top 20 Am Law firms, here are the four with the greatest proportion of female partners:

Firm% of Female Partners
Ropes & Gray31.8%
Morgan Lewis28.8%
Baker McKenzie27.9%
Jones Day27.3%

Ropes & Gray is the standout performer, as the only top 20 firm with greater than 30% female representation in its partnership. Interestingly, unlike the other firms in this table, Ropes & Gray does not rank especially highly for female associate representation: only 44.8% of the firm’s associates are women.

And here are the four with the lowest female representation in the partnership:

Firm% of Female Partners
Gibson Dunn20.9%
White & Case20.8%
Simpson Thacher20.2%
Davis Polk17.9%

Gibson Dunn is an interesting case in that the firm last year elected its first-ever female Chair, Barbara Becker. Gibson Dunn’s announcement of the appointment emphasized diversity and inclusion, noting that Ms. Becker created the firmwide Diversity Committee. It will be interesting to see if Ms. Becker succeeds in boosting the firm’s female partner representation above the current below-average level.

Any way you cut it, Biglaw certainly has a long way to go. Should that be cause for despair? Not necessarily. The good news is that firms are well aware of the problem and at least some of them are making a strong push to fix it, even if progress is slower than we would wish.

How to increase female representation — and retain female partners

There are a number of ways that law firms are pushing to increase female representation in their partnerships. Flexibility is a key theme. Many female Biglaw attorneys are working mothers with other schedules to meet outside of work. A one-size-fits-all approach to hours expectations (including office presence, billable hours, and business development targets) can disproportionately drive away women. We speak to many high-powered female attorneys who feel compelled to leave the law firm grind because they also want to raise a family, and they have concluded that it is impossible to succeed at both. When law firms incorporate more women- and family-friendly policies firmwide (not just for partners!) it paves the way for female associates to first rise to the equity partnership and then succeed there — both inside and outside the office.

Increasing female representation in partnerships is not enough. Law firms must also offer a solid support structure so as to not leave women high and dry once they attain equity status. Providing adequate and equitable associate and administrative support goes a long way in retaining female partners and promoting their longevity. In addition, establishing vibrant Women’s Initiatives with strong leadership and defined budgets is one way to support female partnership (and all female attorneys).  And don’t forget the men — they need to be involved!  Male participation in Women’s Initiatives is crucial in demonstrating that the entire firm stands behind a diverse partnership and supports female advancement.  

Pitfalls to keep in mind

Law firms should be careful not to simply promote women to non-equity partner status and assume that’s good enough. Not all partnership roles are created equal. These days, so many firms have deviated from the one-tier structure of partnership, such that non-equity partnership often amounts to what used to be called Counsel. When there are several tiers of partnership, it creates additional obstacles to attaining the ultimate goal of equity.

Law firm leadership should also be aware that non-billable requirements often disproportionately take women away from billable work as compared to their male counterparts. For example, for some reason female attorneys are especially likely to participate on committees. Women’s Initiatives and other firm programs are important, but they present a Catch-22 that must be acknowledged and monitored. Firms should be careful not to unfairly assign a disproportionate amount of non-billable tasks to female partners or just assume they will take on an extra load. This is something we often hear our female candidates complain about, and it is an easy fix once the problem has been identified. But firm leadership must first be cognizant of the pattern.

A Detailed Breakdown Of The 2022 Am Law 100 Rankings

So how did Biglaw do in 2021, coming off its shockingly strong performance in 2020? In short: better. A lot better. Based on the financial metrics reported this week in the latest edition of the Am Law 100, the recent round of Biglaw salary increases makes perfect sense. Sure, most firms achieved record gross revenue, revenue per lawyer, and profits per equity partner. But that’s true in a typical good year. What made 2021 such a blowout is that many firms dramatically accelerated their growth rates on those metrics as compared to 2020 — a year that was itself hailed as a stunning success. Any way you look at it, 2021 was truly a year to remember for the Biglaw elite.

Collectively, here’s what the Am Law 100 achieved in 2021 (as noted by Patrick Smith in his summary of the data):

  • Total revenue: $127.4 billion, up by 14.8%. 
  • Average revenue per lawyer: $1.18 million, up by 12.5%.
  • Profits per equity partner: $2.66 million, up by 19.4%.

To appreciate just how good those growth rates are, let’s compare them to the strong growth of 2020 and the more typical rates in 2019:

Part of the impressive profit growth can be explained by attorneys working harder. Based on data from the 61 firms that submitted billing figures to the American Lawyer, hours billed rose 5.7% relative to 2020. Meanwhile, headcount in the Am Law 100 was up just 2.1%. As we at Lateral Link can attest, firms were eager to add talent in 2021, but growing the ranks was a challenge in the face of intense competition.

Let’s now take a closer look at the three key metrics — gross revenue, revenue per lawyer, and profits per partner — and the top 10 firms in each category.

Gross Revenue

Here are the top 10 firms in the 2022 Am Law 100 rankings, ranked by their gross revenue in 2021. You can access the full list here.

Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins once again led the pack, not only maintaining their #1 and #2 slots but also increasing revenue at faster rates than the other top 10 firms. The composition of the top group was fairly stable, with Ropes & Gray riding a 22% growth rate into the top 10 and Jones Day falling out of it, despite increasing revenue by 10%.

Revenue growth was strong across the board, with every Am Law 100 firm enjoying an increase (as compared to 26 firms that suffered revenue declines in 2020). Remarkably, 63 firms increased revenue by at least 10% and 18 were up by at least 20%.

Revenue Per Lawyer

Here are the top 10 firms in the 2022 Am Law 100 rankings based on revenue per lawyer. You can access the full list here.

Seven of the top ten firms increased revenue per lawyer by double digits (as compared to four in 2020). Once again, Wachtell and Sullivan & Cromwell took the top two spots. Davis Polk cooled somewhat after its market-leading 22% RPL growth in 2020. Cravath impressed with its rise from from #10 to #3 (mirroring the jump that Davis Polk achieved in 2020). Quinn Emanuel and Paul, Weiss ascended into the top 10, displacing Cahill Gordon and Debevoise.

Profits Per Equity Partner

And finally, everyone’s favorite ranking: the top 10 firms by profits per equity partner. You can access the full list here.

As always, Wachtell tops the list, this year exceeding $8 million in PPEP for the first time. Kirkland and Davis Polk each cracked the $7 million mark. Sullivan & Cromwell leapfrogged Paul, Weiss and Simpson Thacher to claim the #4 slot. Broadly speaking, the top 10 was fairly stable: the only firm to drop out was Debevoise, which grew PPEP by 10% but was no match for Latham’s 26% growth.

Overall, 14 firms now have profits per equity partner above $5 million (compared to six in 2020). Consistent with the long-running “rich get richer” theme in Biglaw, PPEP growth was strongest at the top of the Am Law 100. Whereas the top quartile increased PPEP by 22.7%, the bottom quartile of the Am Law 100 managed only a 7.7% increase. Still, no matter where their firm stood in the rankings, most Am Law 100 partners would be hard pressed to complain about 2021.

Diversity in Biglaw: Same Old Rhetoric or Reason for Optimism?

Diversity and inclusion are top of mind for law firm marketing departments these days. For Biglaw firms, expressing a commitment to boosting diversity in the profession is expected. But when it comes to executing on that commitment, the results have been uneven.

How are firms doing on diversity?

In a recent episode of Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers, hosts Zach Sandberg and David Lat reviewed the landscape. Citing data from Leopard Solutions, David noted that in 2021, 17% of lawyers in top 200 firms were ethnically diverse, a percentage that was unchanged from 2020. However, at the partnership level the representation of minority lawyers grew from 10% to 11%. As David pointed out, that increase is significant in percentage terms, representing 10% year-over-year growth. But at the same time, it is still far from representative of the broader U.S. population.

Some firms are doing considerably better than most. The ALM Intelligence 2021 Diversity Scorecard lists White & Case as featuring 21.9% minority partners, making it the only AmLaw 50 partnership with greater than 20% ethnically diverse representation. On the other hand, some of the most prestigious and financially secure Biglaw firms are notable laggards: minority representation in the Wachtell and Sullivan & Cromwell partnerships stands at 8.9% and 9%, respectively.

Is there reason for optimism?

As we discussed on the podcast, it’s easy to be cynical about calls for increased diversity in the legal profession. Every year discussion of the problem grows more prominent, but the rate of actual change has been glacial. Nevertheless, we point to the Mansfield Rule as one cause for optimism. Modeled after the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview diverse candidates as part of the head coach hiring process, the Mansfield Rule “measures whether law firms have affirmatively considered at least 30 percent women, lawyers of color, LGBTQ+ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, formal client pitch opportunities, and senior lateral positions.” Firms that commit to that standard can become Mansfield Certified.

As David noted, an advantage of the Mansfield approach is that it ensures diverse candidates gain interview opportunities without establishing a quota for hiring decisions. That should make it palatable even to some firm leaders who may be skeptical of more aggressive campaigns to increase diversity. Indeed, the number of participating major law firms has grown to exceed 100.

Even so, it is notable how many top firms have not yet chosen to participate. Let’s take Gibson Dunn as a case study. The firm’s diversity performance is mediocre — not the worst in its peer group, but not exactly cause for celebration. Gibson’s partnership features 12.1% minority representation (as reported in the 2021 Diversity Scorecard). For comparison, fellow California-headquartered firm Wilson Sonsini is at 19.2%. Interestingly, Wilson Sonsini is Mansfield Certified, whereas Gibson is not.

Who should take responsibility for increasing diversity?

On another recent Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers episode, guest Monique Burt Williams, CEO of Cadence Counsel, addressed the growing number of law firms and companies hiring Chief Diversity Officers. Creating a position exclusively focused on diversity and inclusion can be an important positive step, but it carries risk that senior management will delegate the whole problem to the new hire. As Monique likes to say, “your Chief Diversity Officer should be your CEO.” In other words, unless law firm leaders are personally committed and engaged in efforts to make meaningful progress, we cannot expect a substantial increase in representation of diverse lawyers in Biglaw. The challenge is too important to be delegated.

How to Get on a Recruiter’s Naughty List (and Why it Matters)

When you’ve been in the recruiting business as long as we have, you notice some behavioral patterns. Some of those patterns are a little, let’s say, irritating. As a public service to the legal recruiting industry, we thought we’d put together a list of what not to do as a law firm or candidate engaging with recruiters.

Assuming you are not yourself a recruiter, why should you care about this? (Other than not wanting to be a terrible person!) Whether you are a law firm leader or a potential lateral candidate, it turns out that treating recruiters respectfully has real benefits for you.

From the firm perspective, it’s important to understand that recruiters don’t prioritize firms equally. Our job is to move lawyers from one firm to another. The reality is that if we aren’t making placements with your firm, we’re looking to move your people to firms that work constructively with us. So from a talent retention perspective, it helps to have a solid relationship with the recruiting community. How recruiters perceive your firm also has an effect on your broader reputation in the market. When we are placing at your firm, we talk to hundreds of candidates, encouraging them to consider joining you. This is a marketing function — it builds a positive perception in the industry. Naturally, being on the recruiter naughty list will have the opposite effect.

From a candidate perspective, there is a good chance you’ll be back on the market at some point in the future — or at least that you’ll be open to considering an especially great opportunity. Having a relationship with a recruiter you trust is beneficial both for learning what’s happening in the market generally and for getting early notice of specific opportunities. Burning your recruiter bridges squanders those potential benefits.

So with that in mind, here’s what you shouldn’t do:

  1. Refusing to pay: After hiring a candidate, the firm claims it knew of the candidate before the recruiter introduced her, and therefore it doesn’t owe a fee. This tends not to be mentioned until the end of the process, after the recruiter has already shepherded the candidate through.
  2. Dragging it out: The firm gives the same search to multiple recruiters in succession, without hiring anyone, causing the search to be stale by the time we’re asked to drum up candidates.
  3. Cutting us out: The candidate learns of an opportunity from a recruiter, then reaches out to the firm directly or via a friend who works there.
  4. Gaming the clock: After the recruiter submits a candidate, the firm waits exactly six months (when its obligation to pay a fee expires), then reaches out directly to the candidate.
  5. Below-market fee caps: The firm expresses interest in working with a recruiter but insists on paying only half the market rate.
  6. Window shopping: The firm takes a meeting with any candidate the recruiter submits, but it never hires any of them.
  7. Feigned interest: The candidate uses the recruiter to get a competing offer, with the goal of building leverage against their current firm to gain a promotion, a higher salary, or enhanced remote-work flexibility.
  8. Setting false criteria: The candidate declares they won’t move unless it’s for X amount of money. The recruiter convinces the firm to increase its offer by a six-figure sum, exceeding the candidate’s threshold. The candidate still rejects the offer.
  9. Inconsistent feedback: The firm rejects a candidate as too junior, days after hiring a candidate of the same seniority level.
  10. Radio silence: The firm provides zero feedback on a seemingly strong candidate.
  11. Unrealistic expectations: The firm is exceedingly picky about candidate credentials, despite offering nowhere near market compensation.
  12. Confidentiality fails: After the recruiter submits a candidate on a confidential basis, the firm carelessly asks around about the candidate, causing the news to get back to the candidate’s current firm.
  13. Late conflict discovery: Disregarding the best practice of conducting early conflicts checks, the firm discovers an insurmountable conflict near the end of the process.
  14. Hiding the ball: The candidate fails to tell the recruiter about competing interviews or offers, causing the recruiter not to press the firm to speed up its process, and causing the candidate to miss out on what could have been an offer.
  15. Ghosting: Candidates, this one is pretty self-explanatory. Whether in the dating market or the job market, ghosting people is a bad look!

Dreaming of an In-House Gig? Don’t Make the Jump Too Soon!

In-house counsel positions sound like the promised land for many Biglaw attorneys. A better lifestyle and no billable hours, plus decent compensation. Who wouldn’t want that? To what extent the in-house grass is in fact greener is a matter of debate though. Experiences vary greatly from one company to another. But for many lawyers, the in-house track can be a good long-term fit.

However, as I discussed on a recent episode of Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers, there is tremendous risk in making the switch too soon. Risk that many law firm associates don’t realize when they jump at the first in-house role they can get. A premature exit from the law firm track can severely stunt an in-house counsel’s career growth. When companies make in-house offers to relatively junior associates, they tend not to warn candidates that entering at a junior level will probably prevent them from being on the General Counsel track in the future. Armed with this knowledge, associates must educate themselves about in-house career trajectories. If they do accept an in-house role, they must do so with correct assumptions.

Different learning curves

At a top law firm, the knowledge you gain is on the cutting edge of your practice area. You work for clients who bring their most pressing issues to you to solve. Whether handling novel issues in bet-the-company litigation or providing counsel on eye-popping deals. Clients rarely pay expensive outside counsel billing rates for routine matters. In-house attorneys, by contrast, work for a single client. The matters are more often routine and more cost effective if done on the company payroll. They can provide the allure of a broader range of subject matters than your experience at a law firm. But when cutting edge issues do arise, the company will tend to send them to external counsel.

The upshot is that the knowledge base you bring with you from law firm work will be critical. It can be the key ingredient in your competitiveness for in-house leadership roles. Companies promote attorneys who can more cost effectively solve problems in-house. The more high-end experience you have the more problems you can solve. But a third-year associate moving in-house will have a smaller knowledge base than someone more senior. You will churn out relatively easy and repetitive work on a small number of problems. That is more akin to a staff attorney, and staff attorneys are not on track for internal advancement. Worse yet every minute you do not realize this it hurts your long term career. Should you decide you would be better off back in private practice you may find returning to the law firm track challenging. Firms do not value in-house and private practice experience as the same. You will be behind your class year. A class year cut is a possibility, but firms prefer not to deal with that — they would much rather hire a lateral candidate from another law firm.

When to make the switch

So when is the optimal time to make the jump? It depends on your practice area and the company in question. As a general rule though, five full years practicing is a good benchmark. As a sixth-year associate, you will bring real substantive experience to the table. You will have put in your 10,000 (billable) hours. You will have dealt with clients, taken on leadership roles, and be able to tackle more problems. Most important, you will more likely hit the ground running at the company. Your in-house leadership will have confidence to assign you greater responsibility. Your position on the GC track will be more secure. In certain transactional fields where in-house work is very similar to outside counsel work — tech transactions, for example — you can make the switch a year or two earlier. But even in these niches, you will want to wait until you have solid mid-level associate experience.

There is also a silver lining in waiting. You will have a greater appreciation for the various legal career paths. Not only will you have a clearer sense of what law firm partners do (and don’t do). You will also have worked directly with clients and seen the realities of in-house work. This increases the likelihood that you will make the right decision for you. Whether that means shooting for the partnership or joining an in-house team. It also gives you greater optionality in case you make the wrong decision. A former sixth-year associate can pivot back to the law firm track after spending a year or two with a company easier than a third year. Lawyers with this profile are often strong candidates for law firm counsel positions.

In-house careers can be a great option for many attorneys. But if you’re eager to trade law firm life for an in-house gig, make sure you understand the tradeoffs. You may not relish spending an extra couple of years in the Biglaw grind, but that investment is likely to pay real dividends when you finally make the in-house switch. Measuring your career in decades you would be smart to take a long-term view.

The 100 Pointer Law Firms: PPP Growth Outperformers Over the Past Decade

If you’re a high-performing associate with aspirations to make partner, you have many choices in the current booming lateral market. If and when you do ascend to the partnership, you would certainly rather do so at a firm with a strong profitability growth trajectory. Law firm success tends to beget success, and if you’re going to work as hard as Biglaw requires, you might as well do so at a firm that is firing on all cylinders.

To help provide a quantitative indicator of firms’ relative momentum, Lateral Link analyzed growth in profits per partner (PPP) over the decade from 2011-2020, drawing on data published in the Am Law 200. This exercise is instructive both for identifying firms that have outperformed in profitability growth and also for identifying firms that might have been expected to outperform, but didn’t.

The outperformers

Let’s start with the positives. Sixteen firms in our data set more than doubled their PPP over the decade from 2011 to 2020. We’re designating these firms “100 Pointers” — their profitability trajectories have been the envy of the industry.

FirmPPP multiple (2020 vs 2011)PPP in 2020 ($m)
Davis Polk2.76x6.35
Fenwick & West2.46x2.85
Cooley2.33x3.18
Nixon Peabody2.31x1.63
Choate Hall & Stewart2.31x3.24
Fried, Frank2.29x3.62
Nelson Mullins2.21x1.32
Ropes & Gray2.20x3.37
Debevoise & Plimpton2.19x4.55
Vinson & Elkins2.17x2.94
Kilpatrick Townsend2.15x1.36
Fragomen2.06x3.23
Polsinelli2.05x1.11
Robins Kaplan2.05x1.59
White & Case2.05x3.02
Kirkland & Ellis2.03x6.19

Some of these 100 Pointers will come as no surprise. For example, the outperformance in recent years of the Davis Polk and Kirkland — the only two firms on the list with PPP over $6 million — has been well documented. But even among those two we find an interesting nuance: although Kirkland had materially higher PPP than Davis Polk in 2011 ($3.05m vs. $2.3m), Davis Polk’s remarkable outperformance — close to tripling PPP over the decade — saw it overtake Kirkland by 2020. (David Polk also outperformed Kirkland in Revenue per Lawyer growth during this period: 1.52x vs. 1.46x.)

The strong performances of Fenwick and Cooley also make sense, in the context of a market that has offered rich targets for firms that focus on technology clients. On the other hand, fewer readers might have expected Nixon Peabody to have outperformed so impressively. It is interesting to see that despite the general market narrative of the richest Biglaw firms getting richer, it’s not just the highest PPP firms that have made strong relative gains.

The laggards

Just as some less renowned firms made the 100 Pointers list, some high-prestige firms turn out to be relative laggards. In a decade in which transactional work grew at a torrid pace, the strongest predictor of a firm’s PPP growth underperformance seems to be its reliance on litigation. Some of the weakest performers in the data set include Boies Schiller, Jones Day, and Curtis, Mallet. Each of these firms had a lower PPP in 2020 than in 2011. DC litigation specialist Williams & Connolly achieved slight PPP growth (2020 PPP was 1.19x 2011 PPP), but its RPL declined (0.89x). The largest pure litigation firm, Quinn Emmanuel, also delivered only modest PPP growth (1.12x), though its RPL growth was more respectable (1.42x).

Among the firms with more diversified offerings, it’s interesting to see some firms that have a reputation for growth turn in relatively mediocre performances in this analysis. For example, Gibson, Dunn grew its PPP over the decade by 1.67x, the same multiple achieved by Blank Rome and Stoel Rives. That’s a solid performance relative to a firm like Jones Day, but considering Gibson’s narrative of having grown into a true national powerhouse, it is striking to see the gap between its PPP growth and that of the 100 Pointer firms.

Implications: know your market value

If you are a current or future partner, the difference between being at a firm with strong PPP growth versus being stuck at a firm that is flat or declining is highly significant, to the tune of several million dollars over the course of your career. Simply put, if you are a partner at a firm on the upswing, you will attain outsized rewards. If you are at a flat firm, you will likely not realize the rewards of building your practice, as you will mainly find yourself feeding others. And if you are at a declining firm and you stick around too long, you will have left a huge sum on the table, which you will never recoup. Given that you are likely to work equally hard in all three scenarios, it’s not difficult to see which one is preferable.

Bottom line: it pays to understand how your firm is doing relative to your other options in this active lateral market. The time it takes to get ahead of the trends and learn your market value is time well invested. If you find that your current situation undervalues you, now is an opportune moment to make a move to a firm that is on a more promising trajectory.