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How Much Business Do You Really Need To Make A Lateral Move

published May 08, 2020

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Making a Lateral Move—How Much Business Do you Need First?

 
Making a Lateral Move—How Much Business Do you Need First?


Lateral partners are a coveted commodity in firms today. The more potential business you bring with you, the better position you are in to negotiate the terms you want. Whether you are a partner or an associate, the potential business you bring with you will play a significant role in your desirability as a lateral hire.

Where do you want to go?

The first step in determining the amount of business you need to make the lateral move you want is knowing the type of firms you are interested in pursuing. If the partners are originating less than one million, then anything close to that amount will help you draw attention. However, if the firms you are aspiring to have top performers originating five million or more, you might have a tough time if your numbers are significantly lower than theirs.

Some firms, regardless of size, are tough to crack in a lateral move. Do your research, and find out how many lateral hires the firm you are interested in has made in the last couple of years. Some firms are determined to keep a close-knit culture where partners come up through the firm. Other firms are more open and driven by the bottom line instead of company culture.

What do you have to sell?

For most large firms, your book of business needs to reflect at least one million to interest them. Many elite firms require a book that shows several million dollars to catch their attention. If the firm is highly profitable, with partners making over two million a year, you need to prove you have a substantial practice to catch their interest. There are exceptions, and those usually revolve around specialized niches.

Your book is important, but it is not all you have to offer a firm. In some cases, your book of business may be almost irrelevant. Firms ultimately draw money from an expansive list of loyal clients, and clients seek out firms that can meet all their legal needs. If your experience in a niche area of practice fulfills a firm’s needs, your skill set may be the golden ticket.
Attorneys who have extensive experience in a niche market may play more of a supporting role in both keeping all of a client’s business inside the firm, as well as attracting new clients. Hot areas of specialized practice include:
  • Cybersecurity/Privacy—Security breeches frequently make the news and can have devastating consequences for businesses. Attorneys experienced in cybersecurity regulations and law firm cybersecurity are seeing unprecedented growth.
  • Health care—The health care landscape continues to evolve and change at breakneck speed, and there is a growing need for legal practitioners who can help companies navigate the changes.
  • ERISA/Executive compensation—The practice of law surrounding employee benefits, including assisting clients in complying with state and federal laws that govern employee benefits. The Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) expanded the need for specialized legal professionals to help companies ensure compliance with the act. Dedicated employment attorneys also advise companies on health plans, executive benefits, disability plans, retirement and 401K plans, bonuses, stock options, and separation issues.
  • Craft beer and spirits and cannabis law—The legalization of marijuana in many states has created a highly specialized area of law focused on licensing, risk management, and compliance management. As large companies develop smaller business offshoots to explore these ventures, they want their corporate law firms to have the skills and experience to handle their needs in emerging markets.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data—Law firms are using AI for a growing list of purposes in streamlining the practice of law and providing the most up-to-date service to their clients. As a result, there is an emerging area of practice surrounding the laws that govern AI and the world of Big Data. As with any technology, the more they are used and integrated, the larger the exposure to potential litigation.
 
Both AI and Big Data have a significant impact on several major industries, including:
  1. Aerospace and defense
  2. Automative
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Financial services
  5. Medical care and research

Whatever you bring to the table in your bid for a lateral move, whether it is a large book of potential business or a unique skill set that makes you highly marketable, you need to know your worth before you begin negotiations. What is driving your desire to make a lateral move? Understanding the primary reasons you are exploring a lateral move is critical in your decision-making process, and it is also a question you can expect to have to answer in the interview process. Firms will want to know why you are willing to leave your current position and what you hope to gain.

There are numerous resources you can use to understand your potential value to a firm. Tap into your network to find out all you can about a firm that draws your interest. What type of culture does the firm have? What are partners making, and how is the bonus structure configured? Is there someone at the firm with your specific skills? If not, is there an established need for your skillset?

If you do not have sufficient contacts to give you a clear picture of the firm, consider reaching out to a recruiter. Recruiters tend to have established relationships with firms and can answer the above questions. The hiring process can be rigorous and taxing, and there is little need to waste time and resources if the firm doesn’t offer what you are seeking. It is also pointless if your strongest selling point is not something the firm needs.

What about gender equality and diversity?

Most law firms promote the concept of gender equality and diversity, but not at the expense of their bottom line. The demand for women or diverse candidates exists, but there are few exceptions to the book requirements. Firms do not want to risks the dilution of profits. If you are a woman or a diverse candidate, your advantage is that firms will often choose you over those who are equally qualified. Some firms, who are committed to gender equality and diversity, might even offer substantial benefits such as increased compensation or bonuses. However, the one place they are unlikely to budge is on the potential business a candidate will bring to the firm.

Portability and trajectory

Firms are going to look at more than the bottom number in your book. How many of your clients are going to follow you? Legacy clients or clients with a large volume of business with multiple partners in your current firm are unlikely to accompany you to a new firm. You need to have a realistic understanding of the value of your book of business so you can prepare to sell yourself.

You can expect a potential firm to take a close look at your trajectory before considering you as a lateral candidate. Modest but steady growth is more attractive than a significant book of business that has been on a downward trend. If there are issues with your trajectory, be prepared to explain the circumstances that brought about the decline. Firms hire laterals based on potential growth, so an upward trajectory will inherently seem more valuable even if it represents a smaller amount of business overall. Knowing your book and the intrinsic value it represents to a potential firm is critical when considering a lateral move.

 


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