7 Common Myths About Lateral Partner Moves


Although lateral partner movement slowed last year, Citibank/Hildebrandt recently listed obtaining, developing and retaining talent as a key challenge. Moreover, recent reports showed that demand for lateral groups continued to climb in 2023. Lateral partner recruiting will remain a key factor for law firm growth in 2024 and beyond. 

With this in mind, it’s important to recognize that many myths about lateral partner moves exist. Some contain a kernel of truth, some are based on old tapes, and some are flat out wrong. Given how busy high-performing partners are providing excellent client service, innovating legal and business solutions to complex problems, and spending what non-billable time they have remaining with family and friends, it is not surprising that law firm partners may not have found the time to fact check myths surrounding making lateral moves.

However, investing the time into evaluating your career can only help you make informed decisions about your present and your future. Here are a few of the most common myths that deserve to be busted.

Myth 1: Changing firms is risky; it is safer to stay where I am.

Of course, there is some inherent risk involved in switching careers, jobs or employers. However, people tend to over-index the risk involved in lateralling to a new law firm. At the same time, almost everyone discounts the risks involved in staying put.

The real question underlying the “risky” myth is “What if I make a bad choice?” When approached correctly, the vast majority of partners who move believe they made a good choice. According to Major, Lindsey & Africa’s 2023 Lateral Partner Satisfaction Survey, eighty-six percent of lateral partners are satisfied with their decision to change firms.[1] Indeed, 75% increase their originations after joining a new firm and 71% increase their compensation over time (this is in addition to the many lateral partners who receive a compensation bump when they join a new firm). Nothing is guaranteed, and there can be bad choices. However, odds are if you gather the right information during the process, you will be satisfied that you made the move – which leads us to the next myth.

Myth 2: Gathering information or exploring other opportunities means I am changing firms.

This most certainly is not true. It is like suggesting a dinner with someone means you are going into business or moving in with them. Gathering information, learning about opportunities and meeting with potential employers is what successful, driven professionals do. In fact, setting aside time to evaluate your career, where you are now, and where you want to be in the future should be on your calendar at least once a year. A more important consideration than whether to gather information or explore opportunities is deciding how you will determine whether to pursue an opportunity further, or simply stay put because moving to a different firm will not materially improve your situation.

Myth 3: Practicing law is the same everywhere.

The practice of law, meaning what you need to do to make sure you provide great representation for your clients, is pretty much the same wherever you are. However, practicing law is not the same from firm to firm. Culture is a key driver of partner movement in and out of firms. Although law firms share many cultural traits, the degree to which a particular work setting values such traits varies greatly.[2]

The truth is that many lawyers have not changed firms since joining their firm out of law school. How much did they evaluate culture at that point? And other than hearing anecdotes from friends at other firms, what real experience do we have to judge what practicing somewhere else would be like?

Questions to ask to determine whether the culture of a firm works include:

  • What is the highest priority for the firm – great client service or profits?
  • How is the firm managed financially?
  • Are partners treated as essentially cogs in the financial machine or are they regarded as highly skilled practitioners helping others solve problems?
  • Is there an emphasis on continuous learning and development for lawyers?

Firm culture has been a driving factor in lateral movement and satisfaction since Major, Lindsey & Africa’s first Lateral Partner Satisfaction Survey in 1996.

Myth 4: I’m fine right now; I don’t need to look yet.

Waiting until you need to look for a new professional home limits choices and ultimately decreases the quality of the decision.

Even when you feel you are in a good position, waiting until you must leave because of losing a client to a conflict, having your compensation cut, a change in firm leadership or some other factor decreases the control you have over your career and business. While you may be in a position in which you do not need to look around, having a framework in place to evaluate your current environment, other opportunities and timing keeps you in the driver’s seat.

Consider the following to evaluate how to better serve your clients, the people you care about and yourself:

  • What criteria are you using to judge what you have right now?
  • How would you rate your current situation on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • What does your ideal situation look like?
  • What would your practice be like if your situation were a 10?

Myth 5: It won’t take very long to move.

If you determine you are in a sub-optimal situation, waiting for things to improve for you and your clients may simply allow the situation to deteriorate to the point that you do need to move. From the time of your decision to leave a firm to the completion of onboarding and transition to a new firm, takes 4 to 6 months—sometimes longer. A real dollar issue can arise from waiting.  Most firms pay compensation and bonuses into the year following the fiscal year. If you are waiting until you receive your bonus to determine how you were treated, you might be 2 or 3 months into the current year before you know. As a result, you may not be able to find a new home until half-way through the new year, leading to the possibility that you have to walk away from half a years’ worth of deferred compensation and bonus. 

Myth 7: I am only as valuable as my book of business.

Law is a business, and law firms exist to create revenue by providing legal services to clients in need. We cannot fight this reality. However, few people (if any) want to be viewed solely as an economic resource. Firms vary in the degree to which they are profit focused. And more firms are implementing programs around wellness and engagement to demonstrate they value lawyers for more than the revenue they generate. Indeed, a firm’s commitment to wellness and mental health is becoming more important to partners when making a decision to leave and or join a firm.

Myth 8: If I do great work for my clients and contribute to my firm, other firms will know who I am and seek me out.

This is partially true. Elite partners develop a reputation that attracts interest from other firms—and it feels good to know that you are wanted! Many partners receive inquiries from recruiters or directly from firms that allude to the chair or managing partner identifying the person directly as someone with whom they want to talk.

Sitting back passively waiting for these inquiries places control of your well-being in another’s hands. It is better to proactively manage your career. When you are proactive about crafting your career, you can spend some time envisioning the right environment for yourself. You can determine what will get you from the 5/6 to an 8/9 satisfaction in your professional life. And you don’t have to do it alone.


Changing jobs for change’s sake is an unfruitful endeavor. However, investing time to evaluate whether your current firm supports the vision you have for your practice and to gather information about other opportunities that may better fulfill your planned future often leads to an increase in satisfaction and engagement. Further, if you determine you do want to make a move, more information and reflection will help you maximize cultural fit, build your book of business and make more money.

The two best outcomes from evaluating whether you are in the right environment for your practice are concluding that you are in the right place already or finding the firm that you believe you could remain at for the remainder of your career—a move that lasts.


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