Partner-level lawyers who switch firms—or who simply want to explore the possibility of switching firms—confront many practical problems. From identifying and researching which firms to consider, to making the time to meet with representatives of other firms, to inventing plausible reasons to be out of the office while interviewing with competitors, innumerable challenges—some significant, others merely annoying—crop up during the lateral recruiting process. The following are some practical tips that can make the experience of switching firms smoother, quicker, and less stressful for lateral partner candidates.
Maintain secure communications
Lateral recruiting is all about communicating. Partner candidates speak, meet, and exchange email with counterparts on other firms’ hiring committees as well as with such firm representatives as recruiting- and HR professionals, and finance- and marketing personnel. Of course, professional recruiters (“headhunters”) communicate with everyone to initiate the lateral recruiting process and grease the skids as required to help the parties assess a potential deal.
Because such communications typically need to remain confidential, Lateral Lawyer® Group advises candidates to take the following concrete steps as early as possible in the lateral recruiting process:
- Obtain a new personal email address and use it only for recruiting-related communication. Even if you already have a personal email account outside the office, it makes sense to get a new one just for lateral move-related messages. This helps assure that key documents stay confidential and at your fingertips, and reduces the likelihood that important emails get lost in the shuffle. Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail are all reasonable choices
- Use a personal cell phone for recruiting-related conversations
Gather documentation on practice metrics
The Lateral Partner Questionnaire (“LPQ”) is a fundamental feature of the partner recruiting process and typically requires candidates to detail their billings and collections (organized by client and matter) for the prior three years. But how do you obtain such information without tipping off current colleagues that you are considering a “change of venue” for your practice?
Lateral Lawyer Group suggests the following: even if you are not currently seeking to switch firms, gather reports on each year’s billings and collections, broken down by client, as a matter of course. Keep the data in a safe place in the event that you ever need it to complete an LPQ. Requesting such information from your current firm should raise fewer eyebrows if done consistently and for such perfectly reasonable/plausible purposes as business development or assessing your own productivity on a periodic basis.
Approach the process with a businesslike attitude
Maintaining a confident posture can stand you in good stead with target firms, both during the due diligence/interview portion of the lateral recruiting process, and as negotiations unfold over such details as compensation and equity status. Accordingly, it is important to approach the recruiting process with the proper attitude: considering your professional options does not make you a desperate supplicant. Instead, you are a potential party to a business merger—with the fundamental question being whether a particular target firm may provide a superior platform for servicing your existing, and prospective, client base. While a modicum of caution is always appropriate, your interlocutors at target firms will likely appreciate it if your attitude also reflects a mixture of enthusiasm and curiosity about the possibility of working with them.
Assess and solidify client relationships
The number one question lateral partner candidates face is always the same: “Will your clients come with you?” It therefore behooves you to know the answer to this question before embarking on discussions with other firms. Unfortunately, pre-departure communications with clients about following you to a different firm present thorny ethical questions. While a full assessment of lateral move-related ethical obligations to clients and partners is beyond the scope of this brief note, suffice it to say that you should do everything legally and ethically possible to strengthen client relationships in the lead-up to a lateral move.
Prepare for interviews!
Lateral partner interviews at prospective firms are not an occasion to “wing it.” Rather, you should prepare to address five key topics in conversations with interviewers:
- Yourself: what makes you a good lawyer, advocate, and team player?
- Your practice: who are your clients and what do you do for them?
- Your business development process: how do you get your clients?
- Your leadership: how have you shown leadership in your firm or department?
- Why the target firm may be a good fit for you and your practice
In our experience, these subjects are the critical issues probed in lateral partner interviews, and go to the essence of what it might be like to work with you, both from a strategic perspective and on a day-to-day basis. Rehearsing informative answers with a recruiter is an excellent way to prepare to discuss these topics; in fact, a recruiter might ask you about these very issues as a way to help you decide whether to become a candidate in the first place.
Moving from one firm to another at the partner level can be a nerve-wracking experience, even for the most confident of lawyers. However, thorough practical preparation can make the process go more smoothly. The foregoing tips and pointers are just a few of the ways to prepare for a potential lateral move; for further information, or to schedule an exploratory conversation, contact Lateral Lawyer Group at: 201-LATERAL (201-528-3725).