Leveraging Today's Lateral Associate Market


With the new Milbank/Cravath pay scale again equalizing compensation at many AmLaw 100 firms, there is even more pressure for firms to differentiate themselves to top lateral associate candidates. Associates often have multiple offers when they test the lateral market, allowing them to decline offers with greater regularity. Both law firms and lateral candidates need to be strategic throughout the recruitment process to make sure there is a mutually beneficial hiring fit.

The Law Firm Perspective

Firms can increase the odds of top lateral candidates accepting their offers by incorporating the following tactics into their recruiting strategy:

Be Decisive and Act Quickly

Law firms must act decisively when they find great candidates who match the skills and experience they’re looking for. It’s important to be realistic and understand that waiting for the “perfect” associate actually creates a window for candidates to find offers elsewhere. Rather than dragging out the recruiting process, firms need to make decisions efficiently and extend offers quickly to qualified candidates before they have too many competing offers.

Offer Signing and Full Year-End Bonuses

Often recruiting lateral associates away from their current firm mid-year means asking them to forgo the hours they’ve contributed towards their yearly bonus goal. Firms should strongly consider offering signing bonuses to make up for that potential loss, and/or guaranteeing that they will receive full year-end bonuses at the new firm. Assuring candidates that they’ll receive full bonuses removes a major financial consideration candidates might be pondering, a tactic many BigLaw firms are adopting.

Develop Relationships through a Tailored Recruiting Strategy

Candidates want to connect with their potential future colleagues. Law firms should thoughtfully tailor their recruiting strategy with the candidate in mind. They can utilize associates and partners who are alumni of the candidate’s undergraduate institution or law school by pairing them for interviews. High profile partners in the practice group should make a point to meet with top candidates in order to demonstrate their interest. Firms should also note topics that come up during interviews to connect candidates with like-minded people at the firm. In a world where compensation isn’t the sole driver, strong connections might be the tiebreaker.

Generate Positive Buzz

As has been widely discussed, law firms should continually evaluate internal practices to make sure they are creating the best possible culture for associates to succeed. Firms with reputations for flexibility, transparency and general respect for their associates generate positive buzz which benefits recruiting efforts. Flexibility includes work-from-home options, as well as willingness to give associates space to explore other types of work within the firm. Additionally, creating a culture of transparency through ongoing constructive feedback creates open dialogue that fosters a productive and happy environment. Firms should utilize current associates to share their positive experience with candidates.

Lean on a Reputable Recruiter

When recruiters are involved in a potential lateral move, firms should utilize the recruiter when a candidate is a particularly strong match. Good recruiters are not only advocates for lateral candidates, but often they are also trusted advisers. Providing recruiters with relevant information demonstrating why the potential move is a good long-term fit can ultimately make a difference in the candidate’s decision process.

Law firms must adapt to the changing market in order to prevent further attrition and avoid a never-ending cycle of hiring needs. By thinking tactfully and creatively, firms can differentiate themselves from other firms competing for the same top lateral talent.

The Candidate Perspective

While firms should do their best to attract top talent during lateral searches, top lateral candidates should also leverage a market that is currently favoring them. Lateral candidates should utilize the following strategies to find their best fit:

Do the Research

Lateral candidates should spend time upfront researching law firms they’re interested in. This might seem like an obvious step, but it’s important for candidates to make sure the work of the firms align with their skills and interests by getting a sense of the firm’s clients, and noting their high profile partners and well-known matters. Even if a firm has a strong reputation, preliminary research might reveal that the work the firm specializes in is not something in which the associate has interest. After identifying target firms, candidates should test the market and interview with multiple firms to zero in on their top choice. This will allow candidates to fully weigh their options and avoid difficulties with offer deadlines.

Know Your Value and Use Your Leverage

In a favorable market, lateral candidates should be aware of their value and tactfully use their favorable position for leverage — especially if their area of expertise is particularly desirable. Candidates shouldn’t be afraid to ask for signing and/or full year-end bonuses, as well as work–from-home or other flexible arrangements to maximize their chance of succeeding at the new firm. Candidates interested in negotiating fewer billable hour requirements should be tactful, but direct, in their discussions with firms. As always, candidates should approach these discussions from a pragmatic and reasonable perspective.

Utilize Honest Assessments

Lateral candidates should utilize preexisting relationships for an honest assessment of firm culture. Candidates should also take advantage of the time they have before their offer deadline to meet with other attorneys and to ask more candid questions they might not have felt comfortable asking during their interviews. The interview process doesn’t always lend itself to an accurate depiction of personalities, expectations or workload, but connections and frank post-offer discussions can be beneficial sources for a less polished version of the law firm’s work environment. In fact, firms often extend offer deadlines to allow candidates to essentially come back and interview the firm.

Associates interested in making a lateral move should strike while the iron is hot. By tactfully and respectfully using their unique position in the market to their advantage, associates can find a firm that best fits their needs and interests. 


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