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Partners in Practice: Anatomy of a Lateral Move (Part III)

Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post marks the conclusion of a three-part narrative detailing the make up of a lateral move, and is written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link. You can read the first part of the series here, and the second part here.

A TEMPORARY UNCERTAIN PROCESS (CONTINUED)

Résumés: In this digital age, some lawyers and recruiters don’t even bother with resumes — this is a big mistake. First, by taking the time to prepare a résumé, the candidate signals he or she is serious about actually moving. Second, a good résumé can highlight experience and clients in a way that a Web-based bio cannot: it can also be tailored to the specific needs of the recipient firms. I ask all of my candidates to have résumés — if need be, I even prepare the first draft for them.

Business Plans: Along with a potent résumé, partner candidates should also prepare a business plan, which presents an overview of the candidate’s practice, billings, collections, rates and hours worked over at least the last three years, key clients, and a discussion of how the practice would thrive at the prospective firm, should he or she join. If the initial meeting goes well, a firm usually wants to see these details before deciding whether to go forward. When I was a managing partner, I put a great deal of weight on these overviews; as a recruiter, I review them carefully to ensure that the candidate provides their information effectively, frequently going through several drafts to get it right.

Since Bill needed to move in a hurry, we combined the résumé and business plan in the initial submission to firms (going through a half dozen drafts in the process), which allowed them to evaluate Bill as quickly as possible….

Targeting Firms: I immediately provided Bill a list of 20 firms that were looking for someone with his expertise, and had compatible billing rates, practice areas, and culture (after three decades of experience practicing big firm law and recruiting in Washington, D.C., I am quite familiar with most of the players.) Bill nixed a few of them for personal reasons while adding several that he knew might be a fit.

On Monday, four days after Bill’s first call, we sent his materials to his target firms, stressing the need to move quickly — a number responded positively. Within days, Bill had his first interview scheduled for the following week with a firm I knew could act swiftly. We followed up with telephone calls on Friday, and by the following Monday, we had two interviews lined up, had heard from a half-dozen firms that Bill’s marquee client posed a conflict, and had been told by several others, “it wasn’t the right fit.” But the rest were still considering Bill.

Interviewing: A recruiter should prepare a candidate for an interview for the same reasons that a lawyer prepares a client for a deposition: someone who is prepared and has thought through his or her responses is more relaxed, more confident, and gives better, more effective answers than someone who is taken by surprise. So, as I typically do, I met with Bill before the interviews to go over his general approach, the questions he would probably be asked, and the people he would be meeting. Candidates have found this dry run extremely useful in deciding what to stress, and how best to address difficult issues. I also go through the basics of interviewing: wear suitable business attire, ask substantive questions, be excited about the possibility, and confident, but not boastful, about your abilities. This preparation helps prevent rookie mistakes for even the most experienced lawyer.

Both of Bill’s interviews went well, but only one firm decided to move forward. I had one of several off-the-record conversations with the hiring partner to find out whether there were any areas of concern, and to make sure the candidate and the firm were in the same ballpark with respect to compensation. Such conversations are valuable to both sides to smooth out misunderstandings, and address awkward questions (the role has been described as somewhere between matchmaker and real estate agent). Another round of interviews occurred the following week, and then Bill was presented with the LPQ as the penultimate step before a trip to the home office.

LPQ: An LPQ can intimidate even the most seasoned lawyer — it requires a variety of judgment calls regarding, among other things, estimates of future business, and so, working with a recruiter to massage and brainstorm these nuanced areas is invaluable. Being risk-averse and not wanting to overpromise, Bill had estimated future billings several hundred thousand dollars below the previous year’s figures, and even further from his historical average. After we talked it over, he saw he was being overly pessimistic, and raised the numbers to be more in line with the year before, but below the three-year average. (Some lawyers go in the other direction, predicting much higher numbers than anything in the past; unless such “hockey stick” projections are backed up by objective facts, firms are rightly quite leery of such optimism, and such over-reaching can cost a candidate an offer.)

LPQs also usually ask for references. This is another important choice for the candidate: they should be people who know him or her well, and can attest to their abilities and personal attributes. Candidates should never list someone who hasn’t already agreed to be a reference, and who hasn’t been told that the candidate is considering a lateral move.

THE FINAL RESULTS

After I helped Bill with the LPQ, and sketched out for him the people he would be meeting, Bill flew out to the home office three weeks after our first contact. Within a week, he had an offer with a compensation package that was slightly better than I had predicted. While several other shops were still considering our initial materials, Bill accepted the offer within two days; he started work at the new firm five weeks from the date of our first meeting, and a week before his internal deadline. I met with him for coffee a month later — he is very happy at the new firm, and spoke of its perfect fit!

Although Bill’s move was quicker than most, the process is roughly the same for all laterals at the partner level: to the uninitiated, such a path may seem more daunting than it is. While never to be undertaken lightly, with a realistic understanding of the market and the process, a compelling reason to make a move, and the patience required for what can be a months-long winding journey, a lateral move can lead to a significantly improved quality of professional life. Just ask Bill.

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