Lateral Move for Lawyers
One’s legal career is no longer limited to the firm they selected during their 1L summer. There are many reasons to make a lateral move as an associate, and ATB recruiters are well-positioned to help advise and strategize with you to determine the best time to make the move.
There are many reasons to make a lateral move…
One reason that many associates lateral is to achieve better partnership prospects. The number of BigLaw partners that are not home-grown continues to trend upward.
A lateral move might be warranted if you’re pursuing a new practice area and/or a different client base. Firms are becoming increasingly specialized and if you’re interested in going in a different direction, from BigLaw to a boutique, or vice versa, a lateral move might make sense.
Perhaps a relocation to be closer to family, or moving due to a partner’s job is cause for a different geographic market. The Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is making it easier for associates to change locations without needing to sit for another bar exam (and let’s face it, even A-type litigators would not relish doing that all over again). If a lateral associate needs to take another bar exam for admission to a new state, oftentimes firms will compensate for bar exam prep and expenses.
If your goal is to move in-house eventually, lateraling to a firm that can provide better exit opportunities to set up a move in-house could be considered. Companies often employ their in-house attorneys from firms that they work with or from firms that train lawyers, and most often with the blessing of the firm. For example, an associate may find themselves at a firm in Washington, DC that works almost exclusively with clients in the food and drug industries. However, in order to make a move later in their career to a sustainable energy company, they may need to transition to a firm that does the types of transactional and regulatory work specific to this industry.
It is not uncommon that associates seek to make a lateral move to improve their work-life balance and/or achieve a better lifestyle. A recent notable example includes the trend of making a lateral move to escape returning to the office. Covid has upended the way many of us view work, life, and what is truly important; the Great Resignation makes that abundantly clear.
How long should an associate stay at their first firm before making a lateral move?
Associates with one to six years of experience will find the greatest number of law firm opportunities available. While there are opportunities for associates to make a lateral move with as little as one year of experience, associates with three to five years of valuable practice experience will likely have additional opportunities available. The number of roles typically drops sharply after about five to six years of experience within law firms (although associates who have a substantial portable business or those who have amassed experience in a niche practice area may not face the same “up and out” pressures).
If a candidate doesn’t see a long-term future with a particular firm, they should seriously consider making a move before the peak window of opportunity closes. Furthermore, we advise that even midlevel associates happy with their firm consider taking a few meetings to better understand the market and what other firms may have to offer. Sometimes an associate will find that another firm may be a better fit, or alternatively, be affirmed that their current firm is the best place for their career goals. It’s always reassuring to know your worth and to know what options are available!
Should I use a recruiter to help me make a lateral move?
Above the Bar (ATB) recruiters have strong connections to law firms and have developed close relationships with hiring managers to help identify lateral opportunities that may be the right match for you (learn more in our 6 Important Questions to Ask A Legal Recruiter blog post here). The ATB team understands the nuances of numerous practice areas and can advise on what would be strategic timing for a lateral move. Firms pay recruiters a placement fee to find good talent to match their open attorney positions and therefore this valuable service comes at no cost to you.
At ATB, we know a legal job search can be overwhelming. The time, energy, and great stakes involved with a legal job search can sometimes lead to an unexpected rollercoaster ride. We know because we’ve been there. As former attorneys, we are uniquely positioned to serve your needs (think of us as ‘coach’, ‘therapist’, and ‘advocate’ all rolled into one).
Our goal is to identify the right legal job for you. To that end, we are committed to diversity-focused recruiting practices and take the time to understand your values and match you with a company culture that resonates with you. We will guide you through the attorney recruitment process, including proper interview preparation. Then, we cheer you on when you secure the role you’ve been waiting for! In celebration, we make a charitable contribution in your name to your charity of choice.
We encourage you to connect with our team to leverage our extensive network of hiring decision-makers within the legal job market. Upload your resume here!