Why Lawyers Move: Factors That Push And Pull


The first piece in this series ended with a discussion of some of the reasons lawyers move. Included among those were what some in the recruiting industry call the three Rs: rates, respect (or lack of it) and restlessness. Though many factors influence an individual lawyer's decision on whether and when to move, gathered together they largely do fall into one of these three buckets.


In two recent surveys of partners who made lateral moves within the past three years and lawyers at all levels who weighed in on their firm's culture, the leading factors driving lawyers to switch firms, i.e., "push" factors, include lack of confidence in management, lack of support for one's practice, culture, and compensation. Other factors lawyers say turn them off, and may influence their decision whether to stay or go, include how aggressive a firm is in pursuing economic success, i.e., a high billable hours requirement (typically an associate concern), and how origination credit is shared (typically a partner concern).


When lawyers do make a decision to move, they are drawn to firms that are well managed, profitable, have high integrity, emphasize client service and provide good practice support, i.e., the "pull" factors.


Push Factors: the three Rs:




In the category of rates, it is traditionally the case that law firms raise their hourly rates annually, up and down the line, for partners and associates. Annual rate increases are a major component of a law firm's growth and profitability. This is particularly true for the largest firms.


Invariably, however, no rate schedule can climb forever without encountering client resistance. Some clients engage it directly, when they learn of a rate increase. Others do it when they see the effect of an increase in an invoice. Where clients disagree with their counsel on the value of the counsel's service, as suggested by the invoice, they can request a discount or begin to seek less expensive counsel. Many do both.


Because of this, rate increases are a sore spot for many law firm partners, who get the blowback from clients and, in turn, are usually the first to recognize when a client has hit their limit or become unsatisfied with the firm's rate structure, jeopardizing the client's relationship with the firm and the partner's relationship with the client.


Firms that refuse or discourage discounting can find that the policy puts firm lawyers in a tough spot — either stand on the firm's no-discounting policy and risk alienating or losing a client, or consider moving to a firm with a fee structure more in line with what a majority of clients will pay. The former option is chosen by firms and lawyers seeking to target or remain at the top of the market. The latter option is for lawyers with deep client relationships they prefer not to risk or forgo, and for whom they are willing to accept lower compensation.




Several push factors fall into the bucket of "respect" or, more appropriately, lack of respect, as these tend to be indignities of different dimensions that cumulatively lead someone to feel unappreciated. Having a management team that doesn't support one's practice, for example, is the ultimate lack of respect, and can be seen in several situations. One situation may be refusal to approve a request for rate discount for a new or favored client. The firm knows that doing so puts the lawyer's client relationship at risk, and thus a refusal can be seen as the firm's view of the value of the relationship/client.


Another situation involving lack of respect is a refusal to encourage or cover the cost of attending client, networking and continuing education events relating to a lawyer's practice. Recruiting efforts in practice areas other than the disaffected lawyer's can also be seen as preferencing certain practices, while leaving the disaffected partner to fend for him/herself.


Other respect related push factors include not providing adequate associate or material support for the lawyer's practice, undercompensating lawyers for their contributions — including by not fairly sharing origination credit with someone who actually originated a new matter (even while having a high billable hour requirement) — and not offering talented lawyers an opportunity to lead.


Many lawyers who feel they have grown in their practice and experience want to share what they've learned to help grow the firm, such as through a leadership opportunity to head a practice group, an office, or serve on the firm's management committee. Never being considered for such a role can be demoralizing to those who feel a desire to guide, instruct and build.


Finally, some also believe it shows lack of respect to not be intentional about succession planning, either because senior lawyers value their position and relationship with the client — as the indispensable lawyer — over their concern for the future of the firm, or because they don't have confidence the next generation has what it takes to hold important client relationships, secure favorable outcomes and build a business. This disregard can be corrosive to the next gen's sense of self and belief in firm management.




The third bucket of push factors concerns restlessness, or the feeling that life at one's current firm has become blasé, with the same colleagues and same internal issues, leading to a need for renewal and new inspiration. At the same time, there are changes in peers, personnel or culture that seem to be leaving them behind.


People who were there when you arrived have moved on or retired, many new people have come in behind you, enough of whom represent a new attitude, new preferences and cultural markers to signal an emerging ethos demarking the generational line. A critical mass at the generational line can make long term or senior lawyers feel like strangers in their own firm.


Feeling left behind or no longer an important pillar of the firm can be gradually demoralizing, prompting affected partners to feel undervalued and longing for a home where they again feel an important part of a firm's conversation and practice offerings. Raw ambition is yet another factor that can engender restlessness.


What do lawyers move in search of: pull factors


Lawyers who move overwhelmingly want to elevate their practice and enjoy the successes and benefits of all that comes with doing so. Having the right types of support to do that could mean having high (or higher) quality associates, who are available when needed, rather than continually having to negotiate to get access to competent support and resources.


It could also mean having more robust marketing support and technology systems. Better support might also mean more collaboration and cross-referrals in pursing business opportunities, a shared effort that may also tend to deepen ties among partners and colleagues.


In addition to believing a new firm will help elevate their practice, lawyers who move also want to believe the new firm is well managed, operates with high integrity in serving its clients, and puts clients' interests above others. Firms that succeed in fulfilling the aspirations of arriving lawyers are those that fully integrate the new lawyer into the firm and ensure the lawyer's business experience conforms to representations made and expectations set during the interview process. A satisfied lawyer is one whose reality matches what she expected when she walked in the door.



There is currently no related content for this person
No More Results