Lateral moves are seasonal. Winter, spring, summer and fall, concepts largely unknown to Los Angeles inhabitants like myself, largely correlate with varying levels of associate movement within the Am Law 200. Maybe it is the frigid winters — another foreign concept — that make most lateral associates wait to move until the first month of the year.
A better explanation is that associates wait to collect their year-end bonuses before moving. Cravath often releases their bonuses first around December 20th and most firms will disburse their bonuses shortly thereafter. This year however, Simpson Thatcher jumped to pole position and released their significantly increased bonuses today.
As an associate, regardless of class year, if you plan on making a move soon after collecting your bonus, the optimal time to start looking for a lateral position is two to three months before you plan on moving. If that length seems daunting, the period is optimal for not only exploring all open jobs, but also pursuing firms without listed needs to place you at your desired firm. Furthermore, firm needs can drastically change over a period of months making what was initially a long shot, a shoo-in.That means, if you are looking to move in the beginning of January, your finger should be pressing the call app in your phone — but not too hard, you don’t want to bend it.
Another reason associates move in January is because, typically, associates are promoted in December or January of a given year. These two months account for 52.6% of all partner promotions in an average year. Partner promotions are largely handled internally, but firms and associates may also look externally for lateral and promotional opportunities. This is the consequence of varying factors: first, firms may feel that their associates within a particular practice area are not senior enough or capable enough to fill a vacant junior partner slot so they will look at associates outside their firm to fill these slots. This allows them to fill a lower leveraged position at substantially lower cost than bringing a more senior partner over laterally. Now these associates may or may not be on track for partner promotion in the future, but most are informed at the end of the year whether or not they will make partner. These two mutualistic factors partly account for why generally 54% of partner-elect associates move in January.
If you are a senior associate and you are unsure if you will make partner, it does not hurt to test the market to find your lateral value. If unprepared, the worst case scenario is that your firm no offers you, and you are left scrambling trying to lateral into a firm that has already filled open positions in January. Regardless of how confident you are in being accepted into partnership, unless the deal is in ink and bears all the necessary signatures, it is vital to have a contingency plan, especially in the make-or-break portion of your Biglaw career.
If you are thinking of a lateral move and want to move in January, there are several firms to keep in mind that are especially robust during the first month of the year compared to their overall lateral hiring. The firms with the most lateral hires in January over the last few years are: Lewis Brisbois, Greenberg Traurig, Hogan Lovells, Goodwin Procter, K&L Gates, Sidley Austin, Jones Day, Kirkland & Ellis, Akerman and Latham.
If January is too soon and you are looking to move in February, some firms that hire at an above average rate compared to their total lateral hires are: McDermott, WilmerHale, Pillsbury, Bingham, Morgan Lewis, Ogletree, Seyfarth, Paul Hastings and Perkins Coie.
Gauging your market value, whether you’re a partner-elect, a first year associate or anything in between, is a vital form of insurance in the market of Biglaw. Whether you are looking to move immediately or plan on being a ‘lifer,’ gauging your value every once in awhile can also be helpful in negotiating compensation. Lateral Link is the go-to recruiting firm for any Amlaw attorney, and my colleagues and I are happy to chat even if you have no immediate plans to lateral.