The Rules of Engagement: Helpful Pointers for a Partner Considering a Lateral Move


Moving firms as a lateral partner is a life-changing decision. The process takes a considerable amount of time. I often counsel candidates by telling them that exploring the lateral market can feel like taking on a part-time job. You will have to set aside time from your already busy personal and professional life to meet with many different people for multiple rounds of interviews, follow up with your recruiter, complete a lateral partner questionnaire, prepare for interviews and draft a business plan if need be. When embarking on this journey or making a lateral move, use the following pointers to help manage your expectations throughout the process.

Why A Recruiter When I Already Have a Network?

Athletes have sports agents; top legal talent should, too. If you are contemplating an intriguing opportunity or figuring out what is next in your career, you are exploring the market and should be appropriately represented. Do not wait until you are ready to apply for a specific job. The lateral process is its own process, and as a savvy candidate, you should work with a recruiter who can guide you through every stage of the process. Recruiters have market intel and deep insight into the various law firms in the market. Use that expertise to your advantage.

Choose Your Recruiter Wisely

Time after time, I hear from candidates and recruiters about the horror stories of having a less than stellar recruiter. Candidates can be submitted to firms without their consent. A recruiter sends the wrong information to the wrong firm. A candidate did not advance in a previous process as he/she had hoped.  Ask yourself if the recruiter is responsive? Does he/she appear knowledgeable? How does he/she deliver timely information and answer questions?

The stakes are high when exploring the lateral market so trust yourself on this one and select a recruiter who is professional and dedicated to helping you look your best for potential future colleagues. I challenge you to change your mindset from “me against recruiters and the market” to “I am carefully and strategically building my support network to decide what is next and best for my career.” I see it time and time again: An empowered candidate shows up confident to the process and shines on paper and in person. Put yourself in the position to choose and refuse your recruiter and your next move.

Exclusivity Is Everything

While you will have to balance work, life and the lateral process at one time, it is crucial to focus on and work with one recruiter and one process. I recently heard a potential candidate say that recruiters have different relationships. Yes indeed. But all recruiters/recruiting firms have relationships with all law firms. Please do not conflate being successful going to market as working all angles. Instead, work with one skilled recruiter (or in our case at Major, Lindsey & Africa, a team across the globe) who can guide you through the process from beginning to end and share firm knowledge.

If you are a partner considering in-house roles and looking to leave the firm, be singularly focused on your search. In-house roles and law firm roles are different markets. Know what you want.

Transparency and Appropriate Honesty

Have you applied to firms with another recruiter within the last year? Are there character and fitness issues with the bar? Have you ever filed bankruptcy? Are you expecting? Are you leaving your current firm because of a lack of a vote of confidence? If your recruiter happens to be a lawyer, then he/she is equipped to listen to and handle delicate and difficult matters. Some things are for you, the partner, to tell the firm when necessary or asked, but let your recruiter know up front. Messaging is always key. It is best to control your narrative in the professional realm. And do remember, withholding info and being cagey is not an orange flag; it is a red flag.

Prepare Yourself for a Process Similar to Dating

I often analogize the lateral process to dating and courtship. Lateral candidates put themselves out there to be courted or wooed by firms. Rejection can happen. Will or won’t you get traction in the market? Candidates are hopeful once a desired next platform requests an initial conversation. While candidates and firms are both evaluating if there is potential synergy and fit, you must guard your heart and expectations. An interview is not an offer. Like dating, things are not serious with a potential firm until the lateral partner questionnaire (LPQ) comes into play. And even if you complete the LPQ, you only have commitment if a firm or firms extend an offer. Brace yourself for a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs.

Timing Is Key

If you are looking to explore the lateral market, timing and your readiness factor are key. Like the rugged days of law school, life does not stop while practicing law. So, if life is happening and/or your day-to-day work life is seemingly impossible, realize that your best self is not ready to put your best foot forward and go to market. The “ready” candidate is going to show up positive, polished and engaged.

Finally, one should always remember that a good recruiter (skilled and ethical) will never force you into anything and never ever lie to you.



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