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Can I lateral up?
Technically, a lateral move is one that is generally the same in position, salary, responsibility, etc., just in a different place or department. I have many candidates that contact me because they want to make a lateral move, but not laterally (literally). They want to move up. When I say up, I mean bigger firm, bigger salary, bigger everything. Many say that it is much easier to move from a big firm to a small firm than it is to move from a small firm to a big firm. While there is some truth to that, I believe that the reasons why one wants to move and the way one markets oneself really makes the difference.
It is true that many candidates want to move to make more money, gain more (and better) experience, and work on bigger, perhaps more sophisticated cases. However, these are not the reasons one should highlight to a potential new employer. First, money is never one of the first items discussed. Nothing more need be said about that. Second, telling a potential new employer that you are hoping to get more experience and work on more sophisticated cases minimizes the work experience you have. That is not attractive to a firm.
There are many reasons to lateral up in addition to those mentioned above, which are great to discuss during an interview. First, bigger firms (by their nature of being big) employ lots of attorneys. This allows an attorney to specialize, because the firm has enough attorneys to handle all areas of the law, or at least the areas in which the firm practices. Attorneys at smaller firms often need to be more of a generalist, having to handle multiple facets of a client's needs. If you are an attorney that is interested in focusing their practice to a specific field, or a specific subset of a field, moving to a large firm could very well allow you to do so.
Larger firms also often have more resources for their attorneys. Avenues for legal and fact research are often endless, and there is often a set of support staff for everything - copying, mailing, faxing, scanning, filing, IT, proofing, word processing, calendaring. This allows the attorney to truly focus on legal work. This is a privilege.
Another bonus to working at a larger firm is training and mentoring. Having a large pool of experienced attorneys at one's disposal for both formal and informal teaching moments is beneficial. This post-law school learning teaches one how things really work in practice - lessons not often conveyed in a classroom.
If your work style is team-oriented, being at a larger firm could be a great benefit to you. While attorneys at small firms sometimes revel in their autonomy, there can be just as much value in working with a group. Larger firms often have the ability to staff cases with several attorneys. This allows the attorneys to brainstorm and bounce ideas off of one another. It can be very exciting to be part of a team working toward a common goal.
All in all, if you truly want to "lateral up," make sure you are doing so for the right reasons. There are certainly advantages to working at a small firm. Discussed above are some of the advantages of working at a bigger firm, which are also great interview talking points.
Summary: Many say that it is much easier to move from a big firm to a small firm than it is to move from a small firm to a big firm. While there is some truth to that, I believe that the reasons why one wants to move and the way one markets oneself really makes the difference.