Tag Archives: Legal Recruiting

International Lateral Moves

You might expect Biglaw firms to be reluctant to hire associates from one country for roles in a different country. Cross-border moves are inherently more complicated than hiring an associate from across the street. There are visa considerations, bar admission hurdles, even cultural challenges.

But in fact, despite the possible obstacles, the market for cross-border hiring is booming. In particular, Biglaw offices in the United States are increasingly open to bringing on foreign candidates. And lawyers from other common law countries are realizing the advantages of gaining experience in the American market. Building a professional network while working on the highest-value, most complex deals in the world pays dividends throughout one’s career, whether the lawyer stays in the United States permanently or moves back home. Lucrative American Biglaw salaries are also a plus (though you’ll need to tolerate high hours expectations in exchange).

If you are a well-credentialed attorney working in Canada, Australia, London, Asia, or the United States, now is a great time to consider an overseas move. And Lateral Link can help.

Growing demand for cross-border hires

International lateral hiring is not a new phenomenon. We have previously written about it in the context of moves between Canada and the United States. But relative to prior years, the level of interest among firms in hiring from overseas has escalated dramatically in 2021. Firms that have made these hires in the past are looking to bring in candidates in larger numbers. And firms that previously ruled out such hires are suddenly embracing the overseas model.

What explains firms’ growing openness to foreign lawyers? The biggest factor is that local candidates are in short supply. Many firms instituted hiring freezes or layoffs last spring, only to see unexpectedly strong demand for their services in the second half of 2020. All at once, firms have found themselves playing catch-up in a highly competitive market.

The talent squeeze is especially acute in the most expensive cities, such as New York and San Francisco. As with professionals more generally, the pandemic has caused many lawyers to reevaluate their circumstances and in some cases make major life changes. One of the most common has been to move away from high-priced urban centers. That has left firms with slots to fill in the largest markets facing a reduced talent pool. As a result, many are exploring creative solutions like hiring from abroad.

Another important factor is that cross-border hiring is working well for the early adopters. Firms have seen their peers succeed with this model, and that has given them confidence to jump on the bandwagon. The trend is catching on broadly: Lateral Link has worked with dozens of firms this year on international lateral searches.

There are some caveats to keep in mind. First, even in this tight market, firms still expect solid academic credentials, as well as strong and relevant substantive experience. Second, visa restrictions can be an obstacle. On the visa front, Canadians and Australians looking to move to the United States have an advantage. Canadians are eligible for the automatic 3-year TN visa issued at the port of entry; Australians can obtain an automatic E-3 visa prior to traveling to the United States. Candidates moving to the United States from other countries require employer sponsorship, which can be more challenging.

But for candidates who can surmount those hurdles, opportunities abound. There is demand for lawyers at various seniority levels, ranging from second-year associates up to senior associates and counsel. Firms are especially eager to hire in transactional practices such as M&A and finance. Capital markets demand is also growing. Tax and litigation opportunities are more limited, as these practices don’t cross borders as easily. Local bar admission is not necessarily a prerequisite, though of course candidates who already have it are especially desirable.

Lateral Link has specialized capabilities for cross-border lateral moves

If the prospect of a cross-border move is intriguing to you, please note that Lateral Link has a team of experienced recruiters specializing in international lateral hiring. Our primary markets are Canada, Australia, London, Asia and the United States. We work with candidates moving between any of these geographies. Firms specifically reach out to Lateral Link asking for candidates from these markets because they know our team has local expertise. We are constantly sitting down with partners to learn more about their hiring needs.

I lead our international group and bring particular knowledge of the Canadian and Australian markets. I have specialized in international moves for the past six years, and as a result, I’ve gained a strong understanding of which firms and practice groups are open to foreign candidates. I strongly advise candidates considering an international move to seek out recruiters who understand both the origin and destination markets. Real knowledge of both markets is critical to finding the right fit and ensuring a smooth transition. Lateral Link brings the necessary depth of expertise to navigate these moves successfully.

Canada

Firms considering a hire from the Canadian market frequently call me even if I am not working with the candidate because they trust my assessment of Canadian legal backgrounds. Lateral Link primarily places Canadians into the United States or London. We also place American associates into the Canadian market. Candidates interested in moving to or from Canada should contact me or my colleagues, Elizabeth Soderberg or Andrew Clyne.

Australia

As with Canada, we mainly place Australians into the United States or London. We also assist Australians with moves to Asian markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore. Australian candidates should contact me or Zach Sandberg.

London

In the London market, we mainly assist U.S.-qualified associates with moves to London and UK-qualified associates with moves to Asia. We sometimes place UK nationals into the United States, but this is more challenging due to the need for visa sponsorship. Our experts on the London market are Abby Gordon and Andrew Clyne.

Asia

The majority of our Asia work involves placements of Americans into Hong Kong or Singapore. One notable feature of Asian markets is that lateral opportunities are available for litigators who have local language skills. For transactional associates, language skills are highly valued, but they are not an absolute requirement. As with London, placements of Asian nationals into the United States are less common, due to visa requirements. Candidates interested in Asia moves should contact Justin Flowers or Andrew Ng.

Biglaw Partners Should Think Like Franchise Owners

It’s a common refrain even from highly successful lawyers: “I wish I were on the business side.”

There can be more than one motivation underlying that sentiment. The chance to earn more money tends to be part of the appeal, particularly if the lawyer is treating an especially successful client as the reference point. But beyond money, attorneys who yearn for a business role are often drawn to the notion of managing a P&L. In other words, they like the idea of being in charge of a business and controlling their destiny.

The thing is, if you are a Biglaw partner, you’re already running a business: your practice. It might not feel that way. Maybe you view your firm’s managing partner as the person who is running the business, and relative to that leader, you feel like you don’t have much management autonomy. If that is your view, it may be worth considering that most of the clients on the “business side” are constrained by decisions made higher up the pyramid. Not all of them are CEOs. Many are leaders of divisions within a broader corporate structure, managing a P&L that is just one component of a larger whole.

But the best analogy for law firm partners isn’t to a corporate division. It’s to a franchise. A law firm partner is effectively a franchise owner. At first glance, running a capital markets practice looks vastly different from running a fast food restaurant. But if you set aside the surface differences, there are some fundamental similarities.

In a franchise model, the franchisor determines many details of the franchisee’s operation. The franchisor defines the brand in the public imagination through marketing campaigns. It controls the menu of products sold at the franchises. It supervises the design and construction of stores to maintain a common look and feel across the brand’s outlets. And it provides instructions and training to ensure a consistent customer experience.

But although the broad strategic and design choices are primarily the domain of the franchisor, the franchisee controls the actual operation of the business and ultimately determines whether it succeeds. The franchisee’s responsibilities include hiring employees and supervising their work, building the reputation of the franchise in the community it serves, and carefully tracking the performance of the franchise relative to industry benchmarks to identify opportunities for improvement.

A law firm’s management, like a franchisor, is the primary steward of the brand under which the firm’s partners offer their services. The managing partner or management committee determines which practice areas the firm will compete in, selects the partners who will lead service delivery in those practice areas, and sets the broad policies and cultural norms by which the firm operates.

To be sure, those are all important decisions. But the success of the firm’s business is ultimately contingent on client satisfaction, and that depends on the management skills of the individual partners. As a partner, your job is to bring in matters and execute on them such that the client’s expectations are met or exceeded.

Like a franchise owner, you are responsible for your practice, and it will grow primarily through your direct efforts. It’s on you to get out there and interact with influential members of the community, and it’s on you to ensure that the team of associates working under your direction is motivated and equipped to deliver on your promises to clients. Like a diligent franchise owner, you should be monitoring the performance of your practice relative to others, taking stock of its relative strengths and weaknesses, and gleaning insights that can be leveraged to drive continuous improvement. You don’t need to shift to the “business side.” You’re already on it.


Biglaw Partners: Are You Capturing A Fair Share Of Your Revenue?

If you are a Biglaw partner, you may have heard this compensation rule of thumb: you should be taking home a third of the revenue you generate for the firm. The 33% rule has the advantage of being simple, and it makes for a reasonable starting point. But to really know whether you are capturing a fair share of the value you create, it’s important to consider some other factors.

Your hours vs. your team’s hours

The first distinction you’ll want to make is between the hours you bill and those billed by the people working for you, such as associates and service partners. The 33% rule is supposed to apply to all revenue for which you are responsible. But we can make things more precise by breaking that revenue into two segments.

As a general rule, you should make about 40% of revenue from hours you billed personally. As for the hours billed by members of your team, it depends how profitable those lawyers are for the firm. Associates at some firms are substantially more profitable than others. The more profitable your associates, and the more leverage your book has, the greater the share of your team’s revenue you can expect to take home.

RPL and leverage are the key metrics

To understand what share of team revenue should accrue to you, consider how your firm stacks up on two key metrics: revenue per lawyer (RPL) and leverage.

RPL is critical because it is so poorly correlated with associate salaries. You could imagine a different compensation model in which firms paid associates a standard share of the revenue they generated, either individually or on average across the firm. But as we know, that isn’t how this industry works. Instead, all top-tier firms pay associates more or less the same salaries based on class year. As a result, partners at firms with relatively high RPL get to divide a much larger profit pool than partners at “top” firms with low RPL.

Within the Am Law 100, the spread between high and low RPL is striking. Firms at the low end have RPL of around $500,000. For example, Lewis Brisbois is the lowest of the Am Law 100, at $434,000. Firms at the high end have RPL close to 4X that of the low-end firms. Sullivan & Cromwell, for example, clocks in above $1.9 million. (Wachtell is in a league of its own, with RPL in excess of $3.6 million.) Granted, a Sullivan & Cromwell associate earns higher total compensation than a Lewis Brisbois lawyer in the same class year, but that multiple is nowhere near 4X.

Now, RPL isn’t everything. We also have to consider leverage. If a partner’s book can feed a relatively large number of associates, the proportion of the team’s revenue that should accrue to the rainmaking partner will be higher. And to be fair to Lewis Brisbois, their partnership is doing well on that dimension, with leverage of 9.99 (second-highest among the Am Law 100).

How does your practice compare to the firm average?

Your firm’s overall RPL and leverage are important considerations, but unless the partnership has a pure lockstep compensation model, the performance of your practice relative to the firm average is also critical. A good starting point for thinking about this dimension is to compare the firm’s profit margin to the share of your revenue that you are taking home. For example, let’s say your firm’s profit margin is 45%. Are you being paid 45% of the revenue you are generating?

If not, consider how your practice may differ from others in the firm. Does it have lower leverage than the firm average? Are you personally billing fewer hours than your peers in the partnership? If the answer to both of these questions is no, then your compensation should reflect the firm profit margin. If it doesn’t, you are likely underpaid, and you may want to consider your options.

Who Is Better Compensated: Elite Biglaw Partners Or Top General Counsel?

If you’ve paid any attention to the ballooning compensation figures of Biglaw partners in recent years, you already know that it pays to be an equity partner at a large firm. Meanwhile, as average partner compensation escalates, top in-house lawyers are being left behind.   

In 2020, a Major Lindsey & Africa survey of partners in “Am Law 200 size firms” found average compensation of above $1 million. The ALM Intelligence 2020 Law Department Compensation Benchmarking Survey found general counsel and chief legal officers earned average total compensation of $573,000. So, as a general rule, it’s more lucrative to be a Biglaw partner than a general counsel.

But what about at the very top end of the profession? In this article, we take a look at the pay packages of the top 100 highest-paid general counsels, in comparison to partners of top Biglaw firms (as measured by profits per equity partner). We find that on a cash compensation basis, equity partnership is more lucrative than being a general counsel. But the story is more complicated when taking stock options into account.

A quick note on sources. For general counsel compensation data, we look at the top 100 highest-paid GCs as listed in the 2020 ALM Intelligence GC Compensation Survey. This data set is not comprehensive. For one thing, ALM compiles its data from proxy statements filed with the SEC, so only public companies are included. Our source for Biglaw partner compensation is the 2020 edition of the Am Law 200 ranking.

It’s hard to outearn a top Biglaw partner

The General Counsel Compensation Survey ranks general counsels based on total cash compensation. The top 100 highest-paid GCs earned total cash compensation of $2.42 million on average. We don’t know how much the 100 best-paid Biglaw partners earned in the comparable period, but we can say that the top firm in the Am Law ranking — Wachtell — had 85 equity partners and profits per partner of $6.33 million.

Just two general counsels took home cash compensation higher than $6.33 million: Alan Braverman of Disney ($8 million) and Eric Grossman of Morgan Stanley ($6.94 million). Meanwhile, 38 Am Law firms had profits per equity partner in excess of the $2.42 million average general counsel cash compensation.

How does this compare to the situation a decade earlier? Analyzing the 2010 editions of the same surveys, we find that not much has changed. Based on the 2010 General Counsel Compensation Survey, the top 100 general counsels took home average total cash compensation of $1.56 million. Wachtell’s profits per partner were $4.3 million, a figure exceeded by just one general counsel. 28 Am Law firms had higher profits per equity partner than the $1.56 million general counsel average.

What about compensation growth over that ten-year period? From a growth perspective, who did better: the top 100 general counsels or the partnership of the top Am Law firms? The table below shows the results, ranked by growth rate. The law firms in the table were the top 10 firms in the 2010 Am Law 200. We see that general counsels fall in the middle of the pack, outpacing some partnerships and trailing others.

Group (equity partnership or GCs)10-year compensation growth
Kirkland & Ellis108%
Simpson Thacher83%
Paul, Weiss75%
Cravath63%
Sullivan & Cromwell57%
Top 100 GCs55%
Cahill Gordon51%
Wachtell47%
Quinn Emanuel46%
Boies, Schiller17%
Irell & Manella8%

But stock options can make a big difference

The comparisons above obscure some important factors. On the in-house side, it is critical to note that the very highest-earning general counsels receive a substantial portion of their compensation in the form of equity. Taking stock options into account, some general counsel roles start to look considerably more attractive. For example, revisiting the 2020 surveys, when accounting for equity compensation, the number of general counsels topping Wachtell’s profits per partner rises from two to 41. And some of the general counsels have total compensation that would exceed that of even the highest-paid Biglaw rainmaker. For example, Chewy GC Susan Helfrick had total compensation of $30.3 million (of which less than $1 million was in cash). Apple GC Kate Adams had cash compensation of $3.56 million, but her total compensation was $25.2 million.

On the law firm side, profits per equity partner gives little indication of the rewards that flow to top rainmakers. Firms vary widely in their compensation ranges. At the most traditional end of the spectrum, a firm’s highest-paid partner might take home 4x the pay of the lowest-paid partner. In contrast, at a firm with a strong eat-what-you-kill culture, that ratio may be 10x or higher. A 2018 New York Times article about the lateral talent wars reported on eight-figure pay packages for star hires at firms like Kirkland & Ellis and Paul, Weiss. It’s impossible to know how many Biglaw attorneys have breached $10 million, but the lateral market for partners with a strong book of business remains red hot.

Conclusion

There are a lot of reasons why an attorney might prefer to be a general counsel than a law firm partner. But viewed strictly through the lens of compensation, high-performing lawyers are typically better off staying on the law firm track. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should stick with their current firm. With Biglaw partnerships increasingly diverging in their approaches to compensation, it’s a mistake to assume that a partner with a given book of business will be paid similarly at any comparably prestigious firm. Productive partners have a variety of options — and it pays to know about them.

A Changing London Landscape for U.S. JDs

As a former associate with Cleary Gottlieb’s Paris office and a Senior Director heading up Lateral Link’s London and Paris recruiting practices, I have been working with U.S. lawyers looking to move to Europe for the last 15 years.

In 2014, Above the Law published my series on Planning for a Legal Career Overseas (Part I and Part II) that outlines your best route for moving overseas as a U.S. JD. I stress the importance of working in the capital markets space if you are committed to working overseas. This still holds true for Paris and other European financial centers: Frankfurt and Milan, for example. But over the last few years, we’ve seen a decline in opportunities for U.S. capital markets lawyers in London and an uptick in opportunities for U.S. JDs trained in M&A (on the private equity side) and emerging companies work (venture capital, technology transactions, privacy, etc.)

Why this shift? Ever since Brexit became a certainty, hiring for U.S. capital markets in London has been slow. Firms were still sending their own associates on overseas rotations, but the lateral market all but dried up. But with the boom in private equity and emerging companies work recently, firms are realizing they can use this (U.S.-qualified) expertise in other time zones.

I am currently working with two top international firms, assisting them in finding solid mid-level to senior U.S. JD associates:

  • with M&A, capital markets or venture capital experience for a top emerging companies practice, and
  • for a Chambers Band 1 global M&A (primarily private equity) practice.

Capital markets associates, hang on! There will inevitably be more openings in London soon. Capital markets can only be booming in the U.S. for so long without some of that need crossing the pond. But this new diversity in practice areas in London that U.S. lawyers can aspire to is exciting!

If you are a U.S. JD with a top firm and curious about opportunities in London, Paris or elsewhere in Europe—now or planning for down the road—please reach out to me at and we’ll discuss!

8 Time Management Tips for Young Lawyers

As an associate, you often have limited control over your own schedule — but there are still some actions you can take to improve your use of time and cut out unnecessary stress.

If you’re an associate, you’re probably thinking, “What?! As if I have any control over my own schedule!” And you’re right, your ability to manage your time will never be perfect.

I understand. I was an associate myself for seven-plus years. But there are still some actions you can take to improve your use of time and cut out some of the unnecessary stress.

I understand. I was an associate myself for seven-plus years. But there are still some actions you can take to improve your use of time and cut out some of the unnecessary stress.

  1. When you are given a new assignment, always ask right away what the deadline is. I can’t tell you how many times as an associate I failed to ask this important question because I said to myself, “This will take no time at all, I can do it right away,” only to have a more urgent task land on my desk — and I wished I’d asked upfront instead of begging for more time later on.
  2. Many of us lawyers are Type A personalities, and we love that feeling of completing a task and checking it off the “to do” list. But I find the easiest way to prevent procrastinating about the next task is to start it right away. Just get three minutes in, then you can take that coffee or bathroom break. When I’m jumping back into an established rhythm instead of getting my mind around a new project, it’s much easier to get back to work.
  3. Believe that there is no such thing as a huge, daunting project. Everything can be broken down into smaller, bite-sized morsels. Take on one mini-project at a time.
  4. Put everything on your calendar. I assume I won’t remember anything. I include project deadlines and my to-do list items as 30-minute calendar entries. I have repeating calendar reminders to pay my credit card bills, renew my dog’s license annually… there is nothing in my life not on my calendar because the last thing I want to be stressed about is that I may have forgotten something I need to be stressed about!
  5. I also block time for work (and personal) projects on my calendar. Even if I end up changing the start and end times multiple times, it helps me to be able to eyeball my projects for the day, estimate how long they will take, and plan accordingly.
  6. Find ways to use your down time productively. What down time? Even law firm associates have down time. Mine often came at 1 a.m. as I was waiting on a senior lawyer to send me the next mark-up. But I was determined to reclaim this time for myself. So what did I do? I started a travel blog. It was a creative outlet I could turn to even at my desk in the middle of the night. So those late nights in the office were not a complete waste in terms of my personal life. I also made a point of having dinner with a work friend almost every night, even if it was for 10 minutes at their desk or mine. If you’re not inclined to start a blog or write a novel or screenplay, use your scarce breaks to update your resume and deal sheet, work on a business plan, keep in touch with contacts (build relationships!). Or research for your next vacation! Have a plan for how you’ll use your free time so it doesn’t go to waste.
  7. Whatever your goal may be — hitting the gym a few times a week, putting together a business plan, catching up with one law school classmate each day — establish an accountability partner. It could be a friend, a colleague or even a journal. Keeping track will help keep you honest!
  8. If you’re truly feeling underwater, ask for help. Firms are investing more and more into associate life and associate development resources. Even if you’re not comfortable talking with a partner, there is likely someone you can talk with. And you can always reach out to a trusted recruiter to learn what your realistic options might be for a new job offering a better work-life balance.

Making small changes to your daily routines may buy you only a few extra minutes each day at this stage in your career, but these actions will help you build good habits for when you do gradually take on more control of your schedule. I’d love to hear what time management tricks have worked for you!

How Did Biglaw Firms Fare Financially In 2020?

Pretty, pretty well, in terms of both revenue and profit.

Color me surprised — or even shocked. I’ve been following the American Lawyer’s early reporting on Am Law 200 law firm financials for 2020, and the numbers so far are good, even great.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic and recession that made life so miserable for millions last year, law firms did very well for themselves. Check out this table, showing the firms that Am Law has covered so far and the year-over-year change in their revenue per lawyer (RPL) and profit per equity partner (PPEP):

(If you like, you can access this spreadsheet as a Google Doc here, which also allows you to sort the firms by the change in their RPL and PPEP.)

Of the 29 firms listed above, all posted increases in profit per partner, many of them well into the double digits. The highest figure so far, a 46.6 percent increase, was reported by Crowell & Moring (which led me to declare Crowell my Law Firm of the Week last week). But the firm had plenty of company, with eight other firms posting PPEP increases of 20 percent or more.

Now, the increases in profit per partner might be somewhat understandable, given how the pandemic and working remotely led to dramatic drops in many firms’ expenses, such as rent (in some cases), utilities, travel, and entertainment. And yes, some firms did engage in layoffs last year as well.

But revenue per lawyer, which industry observers generally regard as the better metric of law firm financial health (since it’s less subject to manipulation than PPEP), also increased for almost all firms — not as dramatically as PPEP, but still significantly. In recent years, RPL growth in the low single digits has been quite common in Biglaw; but last year, if these early numbers are representative of the whole, perhaps half of Am Law 200 firms enjoyed RPL growth of 5 percent or more in 2020.

In light of these robust revenues and profits, one can understand why law firms paid out “COVID bonuses.” Take Cooley, which kicked off the trend by announcing “appreciation bonuses” in September 2020. The firm posted PPEP growth of a whopping 25.4 percent in 2020. Had Cooley not paid out special bonuses, then reported PPEP growth in excess of 25 percent, it would have had a lot of unhappy campers among its associates and staff.

Congratulations to these firms on their strong performances in 2020. People like to say that lawyers are not good businesspeople, but clearly lawyers are doing something right. The ability of the legal sector to do so well during a period of great difficulty for many other industries is a testament not just to the talent and hard work of Biglaw lawyers and staff, but also to firm leadership. So the next time you encounter one of your firm’s leaders, perhaps in a Zoom town hall rather than in a hallway or conference room, thank them for successfully shepherding your firm through some very dark days.

What do these strong numbers mean for lawyers interested in lateral moves? They indicate that now is a safe time to transition to a new opportunity. Last spring, when the pandemic was at its peak, the economy was in a recession, and law firms were very worried about how they’d fare, it was a risky time to move; candidates feared moving to firms that might hit rough patches after their arrival, threatening their job security as associates or their practices as partners. But now that the economy is on the mend and law firms are not just surviving but thriving, it’s a good time to move to a firm where you’d be more fulfilled.

If you’re thinking about a possible move, please feel free to reach out to me or any of my colleagues to discuss possible opportunities. We look forward to hearing from you.

To Clerk, Or Not To Clerk?

Whether you should do a clerkship depends on a number of factors, as this handy flowchart by Abby Gordon explains.

An important question for law students and recently barred lawyers is whether or not to apply for a clerkship. My advice? It depends. Here are some questions you can answer to help you decide.

If you’d like to discuss your specific circumstances and whether or not it makes sense for you to apply to or accept an offer to clerk, feel free to reach out to me or any of my Lateral Link colleagues.