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7 Tips To Help You Make The Right Lateral Move

Ed. note: This post is written by Clint Russell at Prestige Legal Search. Check out their Prestige Rewards Program here, or email him here.

Bonuses are in. ‘Tis the season to lateral. Here’s what you need to know to make a move. Warning: some points are fairly obvious, many are overlooked, but all are important.

1. Start the process now.

Making a lateral move takes time. Unless the planets magically align for you, you’re likely looking at a couple-month process, start to finish. While that’s certainly not a bad thing (you should be exhaustive when making a career change), it does mean that you should start the process now if you’re planning on exploring your options after you collect your bonus in the upcoming weeks/months.

This is not to say that you should send your résumé to every recruiter that includes you in an e-mail blast in January. However, now is a good time to start taking all the necessary steps that come before sending out résumés and interviewing. These steps will help ensure that your lateral move will be as painless as possible.

The more organized you approach your search, the easier it will be for a good recruiter to get you what you want. This is typically a slow time of year for both work and lateral opportunities, so it’s a good time to get all your ducks in a row and be ready to take advantage of all the opportunities that interest you in 2014…

2. What kind of search are you running?

The more information you give your recruiter about what you want, when you want it, and how aggressively you want to pursue it — the more effective he or she will be. Effective recruiter = happy you. The first part is determining your timeline for making a move. If you know you’re staffed on a case that won’t go to trial until April, your search will clearly be different than someone ready to move after collecting their bonus in January. Identify how long you need to stay at your current firm (bonus payout, work obligations, life obligations, etc.) and work out a timeline for your search.

Second, determine how passive or aggressive you want to be in finding your next position. Are you just window-shopping hoping something grabs you, or do you want your recruiter to proactively work with his or her clients to create a position for you? The more we know, the more effective we are in getting you the job you’re looking for. It’s also the difference between weighing three competing offers simultaneously and potentially turning down a decent offer in hopes that something better will come along.

3. What do you want and what will you accept?

Prioritize what’s important to you in your next position and identify which qualities are must-haves as opposed to things that would be nice to have. This may seem like a fairly obvious exercise, but you’d be surprised by how often it’s overlooked when approaching a search. For example, say you ideally want to make market salary working for a white-collar litigation boutique and billing fewer than 1,900 hours. Would you still move if you had to take a pay cut? What if it was a general litigation position?

I advise everyone to be overly inclusive when exploring opportunities because you rarely get a sense for how a job will be until you start the interview process. You’re more than a résumé and a job is more than a posting. Knowing what you absolutely want will give your search direction. Knowing what you absolutely don’t want will give it parameters. Explore everything in between.

4. Is going in-house really the answer?

Of the roughly 1.2 billion people I talk to a year that claim they want to go in-house, only about half of them have figured out why. All too often going in-house is touted as the cure to all that ails the Biglaw associate. This might be a perfect move for some, but many incorrectly assume it’s the only alternative to Biglaw.

The real question is: why do you want to go in-house? If the reason is to take on a more business development role or work more in-depth for one particular client, then you probably should make that transition. But if you’re just looking to get a more reasonable work/life balance, or to flourish in a different environment, there may be a number of other options worth considering at non-Biglaw firms or boutique firms that don’t come with such a large pay cut.

5. Be prepared.

Obviously you’ll need a copy of your transcript and an updated résumé (and deal sheet or writing sample, if appropriate) if you plan on making a move. These take time to put together or track down. Some firms won’t accept your application until you’re able to submit every piece they need.

Beyond that, it’s worth taking the time to put together a short bio, or list of career highlights before you delve into the lateral process. Not only is it helpful in identifying things to highlight in future interviews, but also it serves as a great tool for your recruiter. Your recruiter is going to be your advocate in the marketplace, so why not arm him or her with the most relevant, compelling information about you and your practice?

6. Find the right recruiter.

Given that your recruiter is going to be your advocate in the marketplace, why wouldn’t you take the time to vet him or her? Too often, unscrupulous recruiters will submit an attorney’s résumé to a firm without the attorney’s authorization. Careless submissions can be detrimental, so it’s certainly worth it to make sure you have a partner in your job search on whom you can rely to protect the confidential nature of your search.

One of the big misconceptions about working with recruiters is the notion that the first person to call you is the best person to represent you. Very rarely is a job posting exclusive -– if a firm is willing to work with one recruiter, they’re usually open to working with many recruiters to find the right attorney. As a result, don’t feel pressured to send your materials to any recruiter that contacts you about an intriguing opportunity. The more recruiters you work with, the higher the chance for problems to arise. Odds are the recruiter you’re partnered with has access to that job you just heard about, so stay with the recruiter you trust.

7. Come up with a game plan.

Once you’ve identified what you want, how aggressive you want to be in pursuing it, when you want to get it, and who you want to help get it for you, it’s time to come up with a game plan to make it happen. This will obviously vary depending on the parameters of your search but you should have a handle on how things are going to proceed before applying to your first job.

Make sure that you and your recruiter on the same page, lock down the best way for the two of you to communicate, and remember to stay patient. Making a lateral move can be a stressful endeavor involving a great deal of uncertainty. The better you manage the parts of the process you can control, the more likely you’ll be to land the job you want.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Prestige Legal Search, which is an ATL advertiser.

Clint Russell is the President of Prestige Legal Search. Feel free to direct your comments and questions to him at crussell@prestigelegalsearch.com.

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