Your Guide For Making A Lateral Move To New York


Here in New York, we export talent on a daily basis, and have done so for years. Our firm has offices all over the globe, from Shanghai to San Francisco, and New York City feeds them all with lateral attorneys. During my ten-plus years of recruiting, I have grown accustomed to this being the norm – but is it changing? Are we now importers?

As New York law firms continue to fight the war on talent, many are looking outside of the box, or rather, outside of New York. Traditionally it has been much harder to move a practice to New York than vice versa, but firm demand has outgrown New York’s supply. This has created a great opportunity for attorneys all over the globe to join sophisticated New York platforms and practice at the highest level. However, not all disciplines have the same barriers to entry. So how do you know if your practice is transferable to New York? This guide should help.

Real EstateOverview: A great starting point. The RE legal market in New York is extremely active, and has been for several years. Most larger firms here have finance heavy practices, but some are more dirt focused – meaning that you can diversify your practice and more imported candidates are viable. It is a great way for a candidate from a much smaller market to crack into a top NYC firm.

Selectivity: Grades and schools are far and away less important than substantive experience here.

Number of openings: 40+. Pick a group, basically – truly a buyer’s market.

Seniority: Rising second year to counsel, with 3-5 years being the sweet spot.

New York Bar: Not required, but must be willing to sit for first available exam.

LitigationOverview: The most competitive of the major practice areas. Although we have seen an uptick recently, both at the boutique and larger firm levels, the bar is still very high to secure a job. A lack of law firm exit strategies – especially when compared to corporate attorneys – creates a lot more competition for each opening. Therefore, relocation candidates are at a major disadvantage.

Selectivity: Extremely high. Must have very strong grades, schools, and current firm. A clerkship is not required for most firms, but is very helpful here when relocating. Besides being good on paper, a candidate must be sharp and polished, as client-facing presentation is key here.

Number of openings: Around 20, although this number encompasses several niche practice areas, i.e. investigations and products liability.

Seniority: Third year to fifth year, with one-offs on either side for truly stellar pedigrees.

New York Bar: Effectively required.

Corporate and FinanceOverview: Another great avenue for employment at a top NYC platform. I have noticed in my tenure as a recruiter that firms have traditionally been reluctant to bring on corporate associates from other markets (with a few exceptions), but that is changing. The perception that the level of sophistication of work in other markets doesn’t stack up is gone; it has been displaced by dire need. If you are savvy in virtually any transactional discipline: M&A, finance, capital markets, securitization and you are coming from a strong regional firm, you have a great opportunity here.

One other note about New York corporate groups: unlike most other cities, many groups are compartmentalized. The implication is that when a capital markets group says they want someone with 2+ years experience, they don’t mean two years of law firm experience with a 25-50% capital markets component. We have frequently seen firms making offers to such candidates, but generally with a class year reduction. So keep that in mind when considering viability.

Selectivity: Similar to real estate, grades and schools not nearly as important as experience here. Firm brand name, even if regional, goes a long way.

Number of openings: Too many to count. Not quite “pick a group” but close, particularly for candidates with strong pedigrees.

Seniority: Very broad range. We are starting to see some firms with appetites for 2014 grads, and many are seeking counsels. Also we are seeing many candidates who have been in-house, or in a non-legal position, rejoining top NYC firms.

New York Bar: Not required, must be willing to sit for first available exam.

Labor and EmploymentOverview: Employment Litigation associates have been in demand by the national labor & employment boutique firms, as well as by several AmLaw 100 and regional firms. The bread and butter of many large L&E practices is defending Wage & Hour class actions as well as defending individual employment discrimination cases. A number of firms also have strong traditional labor practices that involve collective bargaining, labor arbitration, contract administration and representation and unfair labor practice proceedings before the NLRB and improper practices proceedings before the PERB.

Selectivity: We have seen L&E boutique firms focus on litigation skills and self-confidence more than uber credentials. However, that does not apply to every national boutique and certainly does not apply to the AmLaw multi-practice firms with Chambers & Partners recognized practices, as they are pretty strict gatekeepers.

Number of Openings: Roughly seven openings for employment litigation associates and a handful for traditional labor.

New York Bar: Strongly preferred: it is important to be admitted to the New York or New Jersey bar as employment litigation cases are located in both state and federal court. Dual admission is an asset as it allows New York based associates to litigate across the river.

Seniority: First year through fifth year with 2010-2012 being the sweet spot.

Intellectual PropertyOverview: Patent litigation has cooled off dramatically in the last year. 2014 saw a reduction of about 15% in new patent litigation cases filed, reversing the trend from the four years prior, and that drop was reflected in attorney hiring. In 2012-13, IP litigators with electrical engineering or computer science degrees were the most sought after candidates on the market, drawing large signing bonuses and other perks – and while there is still some demand, it is a far cry from what it used to be. Increasingly, IP litigators with life sciences degrees are being pursued and hired.

Selectivity: Moderate. The premium here is on academics – given the overall lack of candidates with specific undergrad (or grad) degrees in EE, CS, Biochemistry, etc., the bar is lower than with general litigation with regards to current firm and even grades. So, attorneys with hard science degrees should definitely test the market.

Number of openings: Roughly 15 for patent litigation, about half that for patent prosecution. A few mixed practices looking as well.

Seniority: All over the map, from first year to seventh year.

New York Bar: Not required, must be willing to sit for first available exam.

TaxOverview: The tax market has been active for a few years, and seems to be gaining strength in the last 12 months or so. The number of tax associate openings has increased by 40% over this time last year – most busy federal tax practices are looking, or opportunistic with top talent. Given that federal tax is consistent from state to state, moving to a NYC platform can be relatively seamless.

Selectivity: High. Tax candidates are expected to have exceedingly impressive pedigrees. Those who weren’t near the top of the class law school from a top school are going to have a major uphill battle, as candidates’ grades are under a microscope. Many openings require an LLM in tax on top of the grade/school requirement.

Number of openings: Around 25. Firms of all shapes and sizes are seeking strong tax associates.

Seniority: Two to five years is the norm, outliers on either side.

New York Bar: Strongly preferred, stellar candidates can get a pass here and sit for the next available exam.

There are many other factors involved in associate hiring than what is listed above, but these are the broad strokes. A connected, knowledgeable recruiter will ensure that your resume gets the strongest possible consideration, but will also listen carefully to find you the best possible landing spot. If you are interested in learning more about the market in New York, or any other city, please reach out me or any of my colleagues at Lateral Link.


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