Your next career move: where to start?

Where to start

If you’re not happy at your current firm, you’re probably considering a change. But where to start? Recruiters at VOYlegal (and a couple of the lawyers they’ve placed) told us a bit about their magic formula…

Whether it’s designer shoes, concert tickets or a state-of-the-art coffee machine, it feels like these days you scarcely have to think of the items on your wish list and they appear in the sidebar of whichever website you’re visiting, as if by magic. That magic, as we all know, is data analytics.

Data is just one of the tools that VOYlegal’s recruiters use to help match attorneys on the job hunt with the right firm for them. As well as identifying where the opportunities are, they can look at historical and recent hiring patterns across different firms and markets. Isabel DuPree, one of VOYlegal’s recruiters, explains: “This helps us identify employers that may be interested in a candidate even though there is not a current opening, and to assess a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in the market.”

“Lateralling can broaden and enhance associates’ legal skill sets which will in turn make them more marketable, successful attorneys in the future.”

The data can provide an even more detailed picture, which, according to fellow recruiter Anna Sanders, means they can answer questions like “Where did the last five folks from your firm end up? What about alums from your law school, in your practice area, or in your market?” VOYlegal’s use of data can tell them, for example, that the Atlanta and Texas markets have seen the highest percentage associate growth in the last four years. And that third-year associates account for the highest percentage of lateral moves. It’s also shown that competition for litigation positions is the fiercest. In short, DuPree says using data “enables us to provide our candidates with more than just a list of open positions – not just anecdotal evidence.”

Not that anecdotal evidence is completely without merit of course. As well as speaking with VOYlegal recruiters, we got the 411 from associates who’ve recently lateralled to give you better insight and some top tips for finding a job you love…


What are the main reasons lawyers want to leave jobs?

Ryan Malloy, recruiter at VOYlegal: While at first glance candidates may attribute their unhappiness to hours, culture, and/or money, there is usually something else occurring below the surface. Are they passionate about their practice area? Do they value their colleagues as friends and professional partners, or are they viewed merely as peers and bosses? Do they see potential for long-term growth? Once these deeper answers are uncovered, then I am able to best perform my matchmaking skills to help candidates find a fit within a group that they can get excited about.

J.B. Pullias, recruiter at VOYlegal: The most common motivation I see is a firm struggling to bring in a steady flow of work that is appealing. The lack of steady, challenging, and engaging work can be a serious problem in associate retention.

Isabel DuPree, recruiter at VOYlegal: Attorneys at regional or smaller firms may desire to get closer to top-of-the-market salary and exposure to what they view to be more sophisticated work.  However, attorneys at a firm that pays top of the market and is very prestigious in the bigger markets are usually motivated by an improved work/life balance.

Austin King, associate at Whitfield, Bryson & Mason: I wanted to transition to a team that shared a similar lifestyle and perspective. I sought to work with a group of attorneys that I could permanently consider colleagues and friends.

Anna Sanders, recruiter at VOYlegal: Other lawyers on the move are motivated by wanting to make a change geography. Being closer to family, friends, or a spouse’s job are very common items on the wishlist!


“Ask yourself where you think you will be in five years. Act accordingly.”


What are the benefits of lateralling from a long-term career perspective? When is the best time for junior associates to lateral?

Austin: The chances of making partner, frankly. I believe that an associate should consider a move between his or her third and fifth year. After the fifth year, firms view these candidates as more expensive and less profitable, notwithstanding his or her talent and background.

Ryan: Lateralling can generate more income for candidates, help them to build better relationships, and to engage in work that they find personally satisfying. Even more importantly, lateralling can broaden and enhance associates’ legal skill sets which will in turn make them more marketable, successful attorneys in the future. Generally speaking, years two through five are the best for making that initial lateral move.

Isabel: Once an attorney has been practicing for two or three years, what they really love about a practice or work environment can become more defined. Junior associates should usually wait until they have been practicing at least 18 months before they start to consider a move. The best opportunity for a move usually arises after two years of practice and peaks at three years, when we see the highest percentage of associates lateralling.


“A lawyer can easily make two to four moves prior to partnership without it having a negative impact on career trajectory, but each move comes with challenges…”


What are the biggest challenges and concerns associates face when lateralling?

Jake Stillwell, associate at Perkins Coie: My primary concern was leaving my last firm after only two years; I did not want to get a reputation for leaving firms too often. I decided to take the new job when I came to view the move as a step up in the same area of law at a more prestigious firm, instead of a straight lateral move.

Isabel: A lawyer can easily make two to four moves prior to partnership without it having a negative impact on career trajectory, but each move comes with the challenge of re-immersing into practice in a new environment and making a new place your home.The biggest obstacles to a lateral move are always going to be where someone went to law school, performance in law school, and the individual’s current firm. Regardless of time spent practicing – these factors always matter.

Austin: I was concerned that moving from a 'top 10' firm would hamper my chances at success. This was a misconception; success is how you define it. I made the change because I felt I could serve as a more meaningful attorney in a smaller firm.


Which types of roles do associates most commonly lateral from?

J.B.: We almost always see associates lateraling from one large firm to another, and from a practice area closely related to that which they are moving into. In Texas almost 80% of the associates lateralling to an AmLaw 200 firm came from another AmLaw 200 firm.

Isabel: In Atlanta 68% of moves to an AmLaw 200 firm come from another AmLaw 200 firm. We see a lot of attorneys moving to Biglaw firms from boutiques that specialize in securities litigation and enforcement, real estate litigation or construction law. Depending on the type of position and the region, firms may consider candidates coming from smaller firms as well as government positions or in-house positions.

Anna: Most of the associates I work with come out of Biglaw or Mediumlaw. There are certainly folks who come out of government here in DC, but those moves are often based on very particular roles or experience.


Are there any legal markets in the US where there’s a greater tendency for lateralling?

Ryan: There’s an increased interest in secondary markets with lower costs of living and developing economies than there was in previous generations. Many large firms have recently opened offices in Texas, Denver, and the Southeast. It is not at all uncommon for candidates working in major markets like New York to explore these 'quality of life' cities.

J.B.: You will see the highest number of associate lateral moves in large markets, particularly in markets where partner moves are frequent. This is noticeably true in markets that are rapidly expanding such as Miami, Minneapolis, the Southeast, and, of course, Texas. Extremely large markets with a high volume of large law firms, such as NYC, DC, and LA, will always produce a significant number of lateral moves every year.


“Law firms are chasing millennials where they are.”


What other trends have you noticed in lateral recruitment at the moment?

J.B.: An interesting trend I’ve seen develop over the last couple of years is the demand for expertise in niche practices within the corporate and transactional sphere, such as real estate. I’ve also noticed a growing desire of associates to move away from top-tier markets with a high cost of living.

Isabel: Law firms are chasing millennials where they are. Atlanta has experienced the greatest percentage associate growth in the last four years, followed by the Texas markets. It’s not surprising that both of these regions are also among the top five in terms of millennial concentration and net migration.


“Crafting a narrative to answer for the fact that I have a relatively large number of jobs in a short amount of time was the biggest challenge in my job search.”


How can a junior associate best showcase their experience to a prospective employer?

Isabel: The best way is through a well thought-out resume. Do not overly focus on college involvement to the detriment of more relevant legal experience. Litigation associates should have a top-quality writing sample ready to be included with the submission. For a transactional associate, a deal sheet of sorts is always helpful – if nothing else, it can show volume of work addressed during a short period of time, even if there is not a lot of deal diversity thus far.

Anna: Figure out how your current firm and practice fit into the legal market that you’re in. Are you doing the larger deals, or do you do mostly middle-market work? Who handles the larger or smaller, more or less sophisticated matters in this area? What do you know about the groups and attorneys sitting across the table from you?


Can you give an example of a success story you’ve seen?

J.B.: I was working with a third-year corporate associate (we’ll call him 'Bob') at one of the most elite, and selective, AmLaw 50 firms in Texas. He had some serious concerns about his firm, group, and overall experience as an associate. Workflow was spotty, and the work was not appealing or engaging to Bob. Finally, he felt that the culture of the firm, and of his group, was not one that meshed well with his personality. A trifecta of lateral woe, if you will.

Jumping into the lateral process in Bob’s state of mind can create serious difficulties. Bob had stellar credentials, but that’s just the first step. If an attorney is so unhappy in their role that it has reached the point of them wondering if they should even be an attorney, that attorney is going to have a hard time performing to the best of their ability in a lateral interview.

I spent a lot of time with Bob in those early stages prepping, talking about the importance of presentation, and, perhaps most importantly, getting him to actually believe that this process could (and would) yield life-changing results. It took a few firms before we found the fit, but, ultimately, Bob found a group that really excited him. He loved the group, the group loved him, and an offer quickly followed.


Any final words of wisdom for readers who might be contemplating changing jobs?

Jake: It’s important to think about your story – why are you leaving your job now and why do you want the position you’re going after at the firm you’re applying to? Most attorneys are generally successful people, so associates looking for a change need to develop a message that makes them the right fit for the particular job.

Austin: Ask yourself where you think you will be in five years. Act accordingly.

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