Doubt and apprehension are integral parts of a lateral move; transitioning your practice to a new platform, especially after years of integration at your current firm, can seem daunting. When news broke a few days ago of a Vinson & Elkins partner’s last-minute about-face, some expressed astonishment, bemusement, and a bevy of other emotions. But the inclination to suspend or reverse a lateral move at the last minute is not as rare as you might think, so how can a prospective lateral be sure that their lateral destination is the right firm for them?
- Business First: The first and foremost consideration for a prospective lateral move should be whether or not it makes business sense. For associates this can mean different things. If your career goals include making partner, finding a firm with a sparse bench and strong promotional record is paramount, even if it means foregoing a higher salary in the interim.
For associates looking to transition in-house, immediate compensation and experience are more important; you are looking to maximize both your transferable skill set, while building a strong financial platform to mitigate any potential drop-off from Biglaw to in-house compensation.
- Opposites (Don’t) Attract: While “opposites attract” is a favorite adage of armchair psychologists around the world, this principle falters when framed by Biglaw. Personality clashes are inevitable in a high-pressured environment like Biglaw, but picking a firm with partners and associates with matching personalities is key to successfully integrating yourself in the firm.
The key to integration is not necessarily finding people you want to grab a beerSpirytus 192 Proof vodka with after an exhausting day of work — though this can help. You want to choose a practice where you feel your personality synergizes with the group. Working with people with a similar mentality and mode of communication is important to avert disruptive personality clashes.
There are exceptions to this rule where aggressive partners and associates pair well with less confrontational attorneys — think every cop comedy since 1980 — but largely, the adage does not hold true for practice groups.
Also inclusive in this category are ideological preferences. If you’re a staunch Republican you probably won’t enjoy feeling the Bern in a liberal-leaning office — or vice versa.
Attorneys generally have a chance to meet a good portion of their potential practice group before consummating a lateral move and should use this time to scope out whether or not they can envision working with these partners and associates. Recruiters should also be familiar with the culture and atmosphere of different firms and can help you find the best fit for you.
- Make It Interesting: A lateral move might seem perfect on every level, from personality fit to compensation to partnership opportunities, however all these positives can be undone quickly if the clients or workload seem mundane. All those net positives might eventually be replaced by ennui as you struggle to find meaning in your work. Before you even consider joining a firm, scope out who their clients are and which clients you would most likely be servicing.
This information can be difficult to obtain, however a good recruiter would likely be able to secure the information for you. Recruiters can also be valuable in projecting the future landscape of your practice. As partners come and go, the work you service can vary drastically. A good recruiter with their finger on the market’s pulse can help you choose a firm where the work will keep you interested and motivated.
- Pick Your Pace: While some attorneys thrive working long hours at fast-paced firms, the same is not true for everyone. Many attorneys we work with prefer a good work-life balance while others have the indomitable will and perseverance that allows them to bill 2300+ hours a year. Everyone falls somewhere different on this spectrum, however, firms and specifically offices tend to clusters these types together. If you’re used to a nice work-life balance with flexible hours, you won’t enjoy working at a firm where overachieving personalities proliferate.
It sounds obvious — because it is — but in practice, it’s much more difficult to find a fit that fits both your business and personal needs. These trends can also shift over time as firms try to combat burnout and lateral losses. Stark differences between offices in the same firm compounds the difficulty of picking a compatible firm.
Making a lateral move is somewhat akin to marriage; if you aren’t compatible on most fronts, you’ll be planning your exit soon after the “wedding.” Finding a firm that meets all of your criteria is difficult, especially in a shifting market. My colleagues and I at Lateral Link are happy to help you find a firm that you will be happy with long term.