Making a lateral move is arguably the most significant part of a private practitioner’s career after making partner, so making this decision is contingent on a number of important factors including timing, cultural fit, business compatibility and long-term planning. Let us help you take the first step in your lateral move.
Why a lateral move?
There are many reasons for making a lateral move, including better remuneration, faster progression to equity, access to a larger/more blue-chip client base, relocation to other markets, or joining a more prestigious firm. It may be that you have reached a glass ceiling where you are and need a new challenge, or your current firm is restructuring and you have been asked to leave. However, to lay the groundwork for a successful move, you must above all ask the key questions: what are the reasons for leaving your current law firm and can those issues be satisfied at your prospective new firm?
Is there such a thing as perfect timing?
When you start thinking about a lateral move, it may appear timing is a key factor. Our answer is: There is no perfect time to go to market. As many lawyers will move after receiving bonuses in the first quarter of the year, there is also more competition for the plum roles. Also, people generally think summer is not a good time to move as many senior partners will be taking vacation, which would theoretically slow down the process. In reality, the lateral partner hiring process is so lengthy (anywhere between three to 12 months, and beyond) that picking the ideal moment to begin is all but impossible.
You may also like to know which career stage is the best time is to move. In the past, the accepted rule was that partners were expected to have a certain amount of portable business (generally around US$1m per year) to be viable to the market. According to the American Lawyer’s report in 2017 lateral success rate is highest for moves in their 50s. However in today’s market, mid-sized or leading regional/country firms are open to considering smaller books of business as long as incoming partners can demonstrate business development capability in the medium term or can service existing clients from an ongoing workflow. This in particular applies to younger partners. Partners will always have to pay their own way, there are just different methods of getting to this point. So again, there is no “best” time to move, only the best time for you.
How to identify firms that are a good fit?
A successful lateral switch should ideally provide a better platform for your business to grow, so an appropriate amount of due diligence on a potential law firm is crucial. Will the move offer the opportunity to grow your practice through a better brand and stronger internal resources, marketing as well as fee-earning? Is the size of the international or regional network of the firm a factor for you?
Every major firm’s Profit- per-Equity-Partner figures are readily available but they only show part of the story. Your own compensation package may bear little or no resemblance to those figures so PEP shouldn’t necessarily be a benchmark for your own expectations, but they are a useful indicator of a firm’s prosperity in general.
Keeping your current clients is a big part of making a successful lateral move. Conflict issues have scuppered many a lateral move, meaning that the incoming partner’s business case becomes much less viable if key clients cannot be ported over. Clearing conflicts is something most firms will look to do early in the process so have a recent client list prepared.
Prepare yourself. Firms will demand that you complete a questionnaire and a business plan. The questionnaire generally deals with your career to date, the business plan deals with your future. It is worth sounding out key clients on a discreet basis about their enthusiasm for instructing new at your proposed new firm. This will shape your business plan. Also try to contact alumni with a connection to the firm. A hiring firm will naturally present their best side, you will need to get another angle for a complete picture.