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The Top 5 Reasons Attorneys Move

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Michael Allen is Managing Principal at Lateral Link, focusing exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.

The average tenure for a Biglaw partner is 5.2 years. 5.2 years! If your last lateral move coincided with the death of Michael Jackson, then there is a strong likelihood that you will be on the move again soon. To those outside of the legal world there is a general incredulity as to why attorneys move so often and whether firms are really that different. But alas the Am Law 200 is not a stamp of approval and the quality of Am Law firms greatly varies (and does not linearly correlate to Am Law ranking).

There are a multitude of reasons that attorneys leave and the entirety cannot be covered by a single list, but here are the most popular reasons why attorneys make lateral moves…

1. Management.

A J.D. is not an MBA, and while most practice chairs have the training and charisma to effectively lead, some lack these requisites. A popular complaint I hear from lateral partners is that they do not have confidence in their department chair or chairman.

Since these leaders dictate the direction of the firm, attorneys may feel like jumping ship if they think they have an Edward John Smith at the helm. Furthermore, partners in leadership positions are likely unwilling to abdicate their positions quietly—even if for the betterment of the firm—and the young bucks who aspire to ascend to leadership positions will often look elsewhere for new opportunities to re-position themselves as leaders in the market. For example, we are assisting several firms in territorial expansions where title positions are up for grabs. These positions are garnering interest from partners who are otherwise not on the market.

2. Prestige.

You did spend $150,000 on your degree, so there is no shame in chasing the sexier sounding firm. Nonetheless, many attorneys do confuse prestige (especially concerning Am Law rankings) with quality. The difference between choosing a firm at the top and bottom of the Am Law 100 can in some cases be the difference between choosing between a Chevrolet and a Porsche; while the Porsche is generally regarded as the more enticing brand name, the differences between the Corvette and the Boxster are marginal depending on who you ask. However, this comparison depends entirely on the firm in choice. Some comparisons are more aptly epitomized as the difference between a Porsche 911 GTI and a Chevy Cruze.

Simply put, do not chase prestige for prestige’s sake. Let it be a factor, but not the sole deciding one. Many of the happiest attorneys I have placed go to slightly less prestigious firms that have a solid business plan, management, and platform, which brings me to reason number 3.

3. Platform.

Bingham McCutchen’s whirlwind year has produced a plethora of partner defections and rumblings about the venerated firm’s future. Rumors are circulating about Bingham’s financial future and current flexibility and unfortunately rumors alone can sometimes be enough to ignite a wave of lateral movement. A firm’s platform is paramount for servicing clients and that platform can be impeded by external and internal distractions. A firm’s platform is partly comprised of the firm’s financial leverage and infrastructure—which includes associates, counsels, and partners. If a
partner feels that the firm loses or does not possess the requisite infrastructure to service his or her clients, they may very well leave with them.

4. Compensation.

As Pink Floyd aptly put it, “grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.” Compensation is undoubtedly one of the largest impetuses in partner moves. Rightfully so, if there is a market for your services you should capitalize on it—
provided that you take into account other factors. For the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to make partner, it is vital to maximize your profits before you hit the mandatory retirement age. Over twenty years (a decent tenure as partner), the difference between a $900,000 salary and a $950,000 salary is a million dollars—nothing to sneeze at.

5. My Client Said So.

We are seeing more and more partners move firms because their current firm has generated a conflict with one of the partner’s clients. One obvious conflict area is whether firm decides to represent insurance companies or policyholders. If the former, it is almost inevitable for partners not to run into conflicts against the big insurance companies. Independent of conflicts, sometimes clients just stop giving business to partners because of platform concerns. Maybe a client likes the individual but not the team. For either reason, when your client says so, you better listen.

There are many reasons attorneys move. As Whitman concisely put it, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Most attorneys move for a combination of reasons, but by and large, the grass is often greener on the other side (otherwise the lateral market would collapse). It is a difficult process finding the perfect firm. Many attorneys bounce around for their entire career looking in vain for the right firm. This is why we approach lateral moves in a holistic manner, evaluating a myriad of criteria that encompasses everything from personality to career goals so that attorneys do not have to make another lateral leap. For those who have been at the same firm your entire career, you deserve a nice bonus as setting an example of loyalty and commitment. Next week, look for more tips on how to identify the perfect firm for you.

Previously on Lateral Link:

5 Tips To Maximize Your Lateral Compensation Package
25 Things All Young Lawyers Should Know In Order To Not Screw Up Their Legal Careers
The 2014 Lateral Partner Market Seems To Be On The Rise, Especially In Los Angeles
Don’t Let Firms Window-Shop Your Résumé And Book Of Business
Sunny Days Forecasted For Florida Market
The Lateral Partner Market In 2014

Lateral Link is one of the top-rated International Legal Recruiting Firms. With over 14 offices world-wide, Lateral Link specializes in placing attorneys at the most prestigious law firms in the world. Managed by former practicing attorneys from top law schools, Lateral Link has a tradition of hiring lawyers to execute the lateral leaps of practicing attorneys. Click ::here:: to find out more about us.

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