Lawyers, particularly those at AmLaw 100 or UK Magic Circle firms, are generally very well-compensated professionals. Although attorneys at these law firms rarely take home quite as much as their peers in banking, lawyer compensation is rarely the chief complaint of lateral partners seeking to switch firms. Rather, primary motivations typically include the desire to avoid client conflicts, and the need to find a different platform—i.e., a firm that is better able than one’s current firm to furnish cross-selling opportunities or to support the specific practice areas needed by one’s existing or potential client base. Nevertheless, lawyer salary discussions are an important part of the lateral recruiting process and need to be understood in the context of that process.
The first thing that lateral partner candidates need to remember is that lawyer salary discussions usually happen at the end of the lateral recruiting process, only after all of the parties have gotten comfortable that a deal may be possible. While it may seem efficient to “cut to the chase” and discuss lawyer compensation early in the recruiting process, such haste on the part of candidates may sour the firm on further discussions. On one level, it’s a matter of tradition and taste: lawyer salary discussions happen at the end of the process; that’s simply the way it’s done. But on a deeper level, attorney compensation discussions represent the end of a process by which the lateral partner and the firm have already come to a meeting of minds on the issue of whether the lateral partner would be a good fit for the firm, and vice versa. Obviously, compensation is an important part of that equation, but it is a variable that is solved for with relative ease; the hard part is determining whether the lateral partner and his or her law practice belong at the firm in the first place.