Tag Archives: Recruiting

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.

Business Planning for Senior Associates: Laying the Groundwork for Revenue Generation

If you’re a mid-level or senior associate with aspirations to remain in private practice long term, you already know that business development will be a factor in your ability to advance in the profession.  The early associate years are primarily about acquiring the core legal skills that enable you to practice competently and with relative independence.  But as you approach the window for promotion to counsel — and, ultimately, partner —  a solid legal toolkit is not enough.  Your firm must have confidence that you can make a material contribution to generating new business.

The good news is that business development doesn’t have to be intimidating.  If you lay the right foundation, it’s something that will start to happen naturally.  But the foundation is critical, and it requires a proactive investment on your part.  Business development planning is an iterative process, so the sooner you give it serious attention, the better placed you will be when your firm is considering you for promotion.  Do not wait until you are up for Counsel or Partner to get started.  To that end, here are some helpful tips.

Write a business plan and update it regularly.

Even as a mid-level associate, you need a business plan.  This is a living document that you should update at least annually.  Don’t wait until you are in the promotion window to do this!

A solid business plan will include details on what you have achieved to date, prospects you are actively working on, and your goals for the future.  List and quantify any matters you have originated, noting which business or client relationships would likely be portable in the event you switched firms.  List your business contacts, distinguishing between those to whom you are actively marketing and others in your broader network.  You should also make a list of attorneys who may be sources of referrals.

If you’re writing a business plan for the first time, you may have little to say about your (still nonexistent) book of business.  That’s totally fine!  Focus instead on spelling out the things you are doing to build your professional profile and lay the groundwork for future business development.  What organizations are you involved in?  Which articles have you published?  What about speaking opportunities?  If you don’t yet have experience in each of these categories, commit to building some in the next six months.

Foster a strong network, both in person and online.

It’s never too early to get serious about networking.  Relationships compound over time, often in unexpected ways, so there is substantial benefit to putting yourself out there early and maintaining an ongoing presence in the various communities with which you’re affiliated.  The range of opportunities for effective networking is wider than ever, both in person and online.  Remember that networking is about meeting and talking to people, without an immediate expectation of any concrete payoff.  So try to relax and be human about it!

One easy place to network is LinkedIn.  You can do it from anywhere, whenever you have a free moment.  LinkedIn is a great platform for marketing yourself as an expert in your field and making connections with prospective clients.  Low-effort ways to get started include sharing news about your firm and commenting on your connections’ posts.  As you grow more comfortable on the platform, start sharing your own insights relevant to your area of expertise.  In the process, you’ll find yourself staying in better touch with existing contacts, as well as expanding your network with new contacts.

And don’t forget about “internal networking” within your own law firm.  Getting to know attorneys outside of your practice group is key.  By gaining exposure to different practice areas, you lay the groundwork for future cross-selling.  A colleague who knows and trusts you is more likely to introduce you to clients and invite you on pitches.

If the concept of networking gives you anxiety, set yourself some small, achievable goals to help get more comfortable.  For example, if you go to a happy hour event, commit to making three new contacts and to making one LinkedIn post about the event.  And then vow to follow up with them.  The most important thing is to get started!

Leverage your mentors and learn from their experience.

If you’re a mid-level or senior associate, you likely have at least one or two mentors whom you trust to provide career advice.  (If you don’t, you should consider a lateral move to a firm more committed to mentorship!)  Business development is a great topic to explore with your mentors.  Ask about their experience generating revenue and the strategies that have worked best for them.  Share your business plan and ask for feedback.  Ask your mentors to include you in business development activities and pitches, where possible.  If you show that you’re committed to the business side of the firm, most partners will be happy to help you build the skills needed to become a revenue generator.

In addition to a mentor within your firm, assembling a group of other advisors who know the legal market and the profession is never a bad idea.  Forming a relationship with an experienced recruiter (even if you aren’t looking to lateral at this time), who knows the market, and will check in with you every six months or so to update you and provide advice, can only help you.  A good recruiter can provide you with solid business development tips, a business plan template, and can even offer edits to your plan.

Commit to stepping out of your comfort zone.

Many associates find business development intimidating because it is new and requires you to put yourself out there and risk rejection.  However, please rest assured that these are learnable skills, provided you have the right mindset.  Start by acknowledging that you must step out of your comfort zone to achieve success and move forward.  And keep in mind that building a book of business doesn’t happen overnight.  Good luck and remember that there are many experts eager to help you put yourself out there!

Remote Biglaw Positions: Separating Fact from Myth

Besides the pandemic itself, perhaps no topic has dominated recent conversation among white-collar professionals like working from home. The upsides. The downsides. How long it will last. Whether the nature of work has changed forever. Everyone has an opinion and a preference.

For most of 2020 and early 2021, the remote work debate didn’t have much immediate practical implication. Like it or not, Biglaw attorneys were mainly working from home. But now that offices are reopening, lawyers face a choice: either accept whatever new policy their firm is adopting or look to move to a firm that better aligns with their preferences.

Varied expectations for office presence

By now firms have generally re-opened their U.S. offices, with summer attendance guidelines ranging from voluntary at firms like Ropes & Gray to “strongly encouraged” at firms like Sullivan & Cromwell. As for the fall, firms have articulated varying expectations. Paul Hastings has said it expects all attorneys to work from the office as a “default” policy. Several firms have specified a minimum number of office days each week: Skadden’s expectation of at least three days per week is typical. Nixon Peabody is offering a range of configurations, including 100% remote arrangements for some lawyers.

Many firms have presented their guidelines as applying from September through the end of 2021, avoiding longer-term commitments. That makes sense in an environment where firms understand the tight market for talent will require them to offer flexibility but it remains to be seen how much.

So where does that leave the typical associate? For those who prefer to work from the office, there isn’t much to worry about. Few firms are going to discourage a lawyer who wants to spend every weekday in the office from doing so. But for those who have enjoyed working from home and are not eager to resume office life, it’s a tougher call. You can sit tight and hope that market pressures will ultimately force your firm to permit frequent, if not total, remote work. Or you can try to lateral now to a firm that is committed to offering officially remote roles.

For those considering such a move, we at Lateral Link think it’s important to separate fact from myth when it comes to remote positions in Biglaw. We’re hearing from many associates who are keen to maximize flexibility but are not well-informed about the state of the market.

Myth: Many Biglaw firms are offering remote positions

In fact, most firms are not offering fully remote roles. There is a lot of misinformation on this point, driven in part by recruiters incorrectly telling candidates that a firm is open to remote work when the reality is different. You should understand that firms offering fully remote positions are outliers, at least for now.

Myth: Openness to remote work is the same across major markets

Law firms tend to be influenced by the cultural norms of their client base, so it’s not surprising that a split on remote work is emerging between east and west. In New York, most of the banks that serve as anchor Biglaw clients are calling their staff back to the office this summer, and most New York firms want their lawyers largely back in the office in September. In contrast, the tech companies that drive the Bay Area economy are taking a more favorable view of long-term remote work, and at least some Bay Area law firms are following their clients’ lead.

Myth: You can work remotely for a law firm located in another country

Hiring employees in a given state or country has tax implications for the employer. And in the case of transnational work, there may also be work authorization restrictions to consider. Even within the United States, remote roles are often limited to particular states where the employer has made provision to operate. So no, if you are a lawyer living in the United States, you very likely cannot work remotely for a firm outside the United States. And similarly, remote roles for American firms paid through American payroll are limited to United States residents with the legal authorization to work in the United States.

Lateral Link can help lawyers navigate the evolving market

It remains to be seen what the typical Biglaw workweek will look like a year from now. Based on what most firms are saying today, it will probably involve some days in the office and some days at home. That likely means that moving far from a major city will, for many lawyers, continue to require the tradeoff of leaving Biglaw practice.

However, we expect that policies will continue to evolve as firms survey the competitive landscape and (re)position themselves accordingly. In such a fluid situation, it’s especially important to have an advisor who is in constant contact with a range of firms and can give you accurate information about how the market is trending. If you are thinking about switching to a firm that better matches your remote work preferences, Lateral Link is happy to discuss the options with you.