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Career Center: Looking for Greener Pastures – Tips for Partners Wanting to Switch Firms

Despite the lukewarm job market, the lateral market for partners is going strong. Still, not all partner candidates are created equal. Whether you are trying to lateral to a big firm or a small firm, there are several considerations firms must analyze during the partner vetting process. Unlike the promotion of an internal candidate, a prospective firm does not have ready access to your employment file, does not know how you interact with co-workers, and has not seen you in real action.

On the flip-side, you do not know the internal politics of the firm, what the firm’s long-term strategic plan is, or if there are any potential conflicts with your clients. With all the unknowns, it will be the responsibility of the firm and the partner candidate to make sure all proper disclosures have been made to make sure both sides are compatible. If you are thinking about making a lateral move, check out the tips below, courtesy of the recruiters at Lateral Link….

  • Be Honest With Yourself – A successful partner at a firm must first ask why he or she wants to leave the current firm. Is there a conflict that will affect one of your major clients? Is the direction of your firm not in line with your professional goals? Are you not satisfied with your share of the profits? Are the politics at the firm out of control? It is important for you to ask and answer these questions before you consider moving to another firm. Obviously, if a new firm client or matter is going to force you to abandon one of your clients you have to act fast; however, you need to outline your expectations and see if a new firm will meet or exceed them. Be sure to consider the disadvantages of moving in addition to the advantages. Will you lose any business or clients by moving? Is the move worth the loss of power and rapport you might have earned at your current firm? Are you okay with “starting over” at a new firm? For most people, these questions can all be answered quickly and honestly; for others, it will take some additional soul searching.
  • Prepare a Résumé – Once you are sure that moving firms is the most prudent decision, you need to prepare yourself for the searching, interviewing, and vetting process. Start off by dusting off (or printing) that old résumé, or for some, start drafting a new one. While it may be nice to simply direct prospective law firms to your profile on your firm’s website, no firm will take you seriously without a decent résumé. Your résumé will need to underscore your experience and accomplishments since graduating from law school. Do not worry about your GPA, law school involvement, or summer clerkships — you need to focus on what you have done in your law practice within the last few years. Hopefully you have an organized record of all the deals or lawsuits you have worked on or managed. In addition to legal experience, highlight any of your achievements outside the courtroom or boardroom. List all organizations you are involved with, your pro bono matters, and any speeches or articles you may have authored. Ideally, a firm would like to hire someone who is both profitable and an expert in his or her practice area. Again, the résumé is your opportunity to showcase your partnership talents and strengths beyond your profit potential.
  • Prepare a Business Plan – Your résumé adds the human dimension to your partnership candidacy; your business plan solidifies you as a profitable enterprise. Like a stock prospectus, your business plan needs to provide some historical data, as well as your future income generating capability. Information about your practice, billing rate, collections, annual billable hours, and expenses for the past 3- to 5-years should be listed and easily understood. Additionally, you should provide some details about your major clients and matters as well as how your practice did at your current firm, and how it should thrive at a new firm. The information you provide should be accurate but must also comport with your ethical obligations to your client.
  • Be Truthful With the Lateral Questionnaire – Each firm is different in its assessment of lateral partners and has different requirements and expectations; thus firms will require more beyond your résumé and business plan. If there is genuine interest on both sides, a prospective firm will have the partner candidate fill out a questionnaire, also known as the Lateral Partnership Questionnaire (LPQ). The LPQ focuses on the professional history of the person as well as his or her financial potential based on the metrics supplied by the prospective firm. Use your own judgment when filling out the LPQ. Promise too much and you may set yourself up for failure; be too conservative and you may sell yourself short when it comes to your compensation. Above all, be honest with yourself and your answers. If the LPQ asks for references, only list individuals who are very familiar with your work product, as well as you, the professional. Also, make sure these individuals are willing to provide references and are on notice that they may be contacted. The quality and scope of the vetting process may vary by firm, but the reference checks of lateral partners will be more thorough than the reference checks you are familiar with as an associate.
  • Understanding Law Firm Concerns – So what are law firms looking for in a lateral partner? Obviously the dollars and cents a partner brings in are important, but long-term commitment and compatibility may be even more important today. Several firms, both big and small, fell victim to the PPP (Profits Per Partner) race. Partners were lured to firms with nothing more than promises of higher and higher PPP numbers. When those firms failed to fulfill their promises, even by a few percentage points, the rainmaking partners left and many firms imploded as a result. While monetary maximization may be a big reason for your move, and a reason most firms understand, you must supply other “legitimate” reasons for trying to lateral. With the economy still in the doldrums, firms are looking for partners who appear loyal and will be committed to the firm should it have an off year or two. Candidates with a history of hopping firms based on PPP may struggle finding a firm that will hire them. As Ricky Ricardo asks Lucy in every episode, be prepared to explain yourself, and be forthright with your reasons for lateraling.

As an associate, you may have moved to a different firm and are already experienced in the lateraling process. However, switching firms as a partner is a complex process and requires additional leg work. To begin researching firms, check out the Career Center, powered by Lateral Link.