Lateral hiring in the past few years has hit record highs; and yet, most of the attorneys I speak with on a daily basis initially tell me they are “happy” where they are and do not want to make a lateral move. But, are they truly happy? The data tells us that nearly 50% of Biglaw associates have made one or more lateral moves in the past three years. Maybe everyone is not as happy as they think.
I recently spoke with a friend of mine at a Biglaw firm in New York. She said she “couldn’t imagine working for any other law firm.” I expected a flurry of compliments and praise about her employer to follow, but instead, I was surprised to hear a barrage of complaints: non-responsive partners, associates stretched thin, feeling overused and underappreciated, etc. So then I asked her, “Why haven’t you considered a lateral move?” She had assumed that all law firms were the same, and never really thought about how making a lateral move could be beneficial. But, as the 50% of those that have made lateral moves can attest to, not all law firms are created equal.
There are a myriad of reasons an attorney might leave a firm, but there are generally 10 recurring motivations that I hear the most often. They may not know it at first glance, but most attorneys eventually come to the realization that they want or need to make a lateral move for one or more of the following reasons (in no particular order):
- The People. Let’s face it, we click with some people more than others. We enjoy some work styles more than others. Biglaw attorneys spend the majority of their day at work, so it is unsurprising that most attorneys I speak with want to find a “home away from home” where they actually like the people with whom they work. What’s more, they want to feel valued, appreciated, and respected.
- The Culture. Work environments can vary greatly from firm to firm, and there are numerous factors that make a firm’s culture what it is. From social activities to dress codes to transparency from upper management (I could go on), these are all points to consider in evaluating a firm’s culture. Everyone has their own specific needs and priorities, so we seek out the work environments that best align with our personal values.
- The Geography. Not everyone has their say in where they work right out of law school. Due to firm or practice constraints, you could end up practicing M&A in Omaha or general corporate in New York. Oftentimes a lateral move is necessary to support your practice in the long run. Or, a move is paramount for personal reasons; people get tired of the “Big City” and want to move back home — or vice versa. Whatever the case may be, sometimes it’s more about the geography than anything else.
- The Money. For some, it’s all about the Benjamins. A number of attorneys are surprised to hear that compensation structures among peer firms can vary greatly, especially with bonuses. Know your market and know what you’re worth. Some attorneys just want to be paid top dollar, so moving to a firm that compensates them handsomely is a priority. Other attorneys are concerned about their long-term cash flow and will seek out firms that support their objectives, whether it be to make partner, go in-house, or run for office.
- The Work. At the end of the day, it’s hard for attorneys to squeeze out every billable hour for clients they don’t like — whatever the reason may be. Everyone wants to enjoy what they do, so attorneys tend to make moves in order to focus their practice on the work they find the most satisfying.
- The Hours. Some attorneys are happy to grind away and thrive in environments where long hours are the norm. Others strive to achieve more of a work-life balance. Moving to a firm that appreciates and understands where one falls on this spectrum is important.
- The Prospects. Many attorneys I speak with have specific long-term goals in mind such as becoming partner or landing an in-house job. In order to plan for that future, it’s important to position oneself in the best place possible to achieve that goal. In some firms, chances of making partner are slim to none. In others, it’s a very realistic and attainable goal. It’s important to know how a firm can (or cannot) help you attain your present and future goals.
- The Prestige. You did spend $150,000 on your degree so there is no shame in chasing the more prestigious firm. For some, moving to a firm that has the highest Vault Rankings or the most nods in Chambers is what really matters. If accolades are important to you, then landing somewhere where the prestige factor is high can be the end-all be-all.
- The Size. In law, size really does matter. Some people enjoy working for behemoth firms where they can interact and work with a large and diverse number of people. Others prefer working in smaller, more close-knit teams where they tend to work with the same people all the time.
- The Reach. Whether or not a firm has international clients and offices all over the world is a big consideration for some attorneys. They like the idea of working with colleagues and clients in different countries, or even spending some time abroad in one of the firm’s overseas offices. For others, a firm’s reach can be paramount to supporting their practice.
Whatever your motivations are, I encourage you to review this list and see how many of these factors resonate with you. Are you really happy in your current position? If you are like 50% of your colleagues, chances are high that something better is probably out there for you. Teaming up with a good recruiter who listens to you and who has their finger on the market’s pulse can help you choose a firm that is the best fit for you.