Lateral Moves

As the old saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. The exceedingly prestigious and profitable Kirkland & Ellis, which has seen some partner defections in the past few months, seems to be taking that lesson to heart.

Kirkland recently launched in the hot legal market of Houston — by poaching a promising young partner from a competitor. Which super-elite firm did K&E just raid for talent?

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Over the past year or so, we’ve heard a steady trickle of negative news out of Dickstein Shapiro. The trickle has turned into a stream, so it’s now time to share what we’ve learned.

Let’s start with the numbers — grim numbers. Yesterday the Legal Times reported on what it described as Dickstein’s “worst year in more than a decade.” Revenue fell by 20 percent in 2013, and net income dropped even more sharply, by 35 percent. According to the Legal Times, the firm’s 2013 net income of $36 million is the lowest the firm has seen since before 1998, its first year on the Am Law 200.

Chairman James Kelly tried to spin this performance as “restructuring” and “investment,” as the firm focuses on its core practice areas. According to Kelly, “We made a strategic commitment to be a market-leading specialty firm. We decided we’re not going to be everything to everyone.”

“Everything” would appear to include “employer.” Let’s hear about the firm’s headcount cuts — affecting partners, associates, and staff — and check out the severance agreement that one source leaked to us….

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(Plus a leaked severance agreement.)”

Is the grass greener at another law firm?

I had the pleasure of spending much of last week in Seattle, for the 2014 Annual Education Conference of the Association for Legal Career Professionals (aka NALP). On Thursday afternoon, my colleague Brian Dalton and I, along with Guy Alvarez of Good2bSocial, gave a well-attended presentation on new media strategies that work.

I unfortunately had to leave the conference early to speak at another symposium (the Marquette Law conference on law clerks). But while at NALP, I did attend a number of informative panels, centered around two topics: (1) lateral hiring at law firms and (2) federal judicial clerkships.

Here are some themes that emerged from the three lateral hiring panels I attended:

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I’ve now written more than 250 columns at Above the Law; I’m invoking a point of personal privilege.

Neil Falconer (of Steinhart & Falconer in San Francisco) passed away last week at the age of 91. He was an extraordinary lawyer, a fine man, and a mentor to anyone who had the sense to listen. Between 1984 and 1989, I learned from Neil what it meant to be a lawyer – “be a sponge; soak up the law;” “never tell a small child not to stick peanuts up his nose;” “you take as long as necessary to solve the problem; let me worry about the bill” – and I later dedicated The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law to him. I expected to shed a tear when I read his obituary, but I didn’t expect to be dumbstruck. Words are a terribly feeble way to encapsulate a life. And sometimes you’re paid back, years later, for even the smallest of gestures. Here’s a link to Neil Falconer’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle. Rest in peace, Neil. And thank you.

Thinking about Neil caused me to reflect on the decision that I made, 30 years ago, to work at a small firm (of 20 lawyers) on the West Coast.

Everyone told me that I was nuts: “You can always move laterally from a big firm to a small one, but you can’t move laterally in the other direction!” “You can always move from a big New York firm to a firm in California, but you can’t move west to east!” “You have to start by getting the ‘big firm experience.’ Then you can always move to a small firm.” “Go to a big firm! That’s how you keep your options open!”

The conventional wisdom isn’t always right . . . .

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Ed Wisneski is a Director with Lateral Link, a full-service, multinational legal recruiting firm. Ed’s practice focuses on: (1) working with law firm partners who wish to make successful lateral moves that are personally beneficial, maximizes their profitability and best meets the needs of their existing clients; (2) working with law firm associates who wish to make lateral moves that will enable them to meet their career goals; (3) working with top-level government attorneys who wish to make successful transitions into (or back to) private practice; and (4) working with corporate general counsel to attract and acquire top tier attorneys for important in-house positions. Prior to joining Lateral Link, Ed was a partner and an associate at Patton Boggs LLP, a premier international law firm. Over a 20 year career, Ed developed an ability to work closely with colleagues and clients to successfully navigate complex civil litigation matters. Ed strongly believes that his many years on the “inside” of a top law firm provided him with unique perspectives into the legal marketplace and what it takes to make a successful lateral move. Ed holds a B.S. in Communications from the University of Delaware, and a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, where he graduated cum laude.

If you are a partner in a medium to large law firm, part of your week involves fielding multiple calls from legal recruiters. I know this because for many years prior becoming a Director at Lateral Link, I was a partner at a large international law firm. Towards the end of my tenure, I would receive calls from as many as six legal recruiters in a week, each with an earnest promise that they would find me the perfect job.

Did I take every call? No. But I did take many. Why? Because in today’s highly competitive legal market, it makes sense to know your options.

In a sea of legal recruiters, how can you determine which recruiter is right for you? How can that recruiter help you make a prudent lateral move? How can that recruiter help you test your marketability without causing a distraction to your busy work schedule?

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Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s new poet-in-residence, Qui Tam. You can read the rest of his law-related poetry over here.

In football, a lateral pass by definition cannot go forward. I thought about that in the merry-go-round lateral market of the mid 00s; a whole lot of sideways movement and shuffling around, most of it just trying to put off a little longer the oncoming inevitability of a bone-crunching tackle in the form of Biglaw up and out. Two lateral experiences…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Ata Farhadi is a Director of associate, partner, and in-house recruiting at Lateral Link. He recruits for Am Law 200 firms, smaller boutiques, and corporations ranging from financial institutions to major entertainment and media outlets. As a Director at Lateral Link, Ata offers market analysis, resume advice, interview strategy and related services to attorneys across the United States, Europe and Asia. Ata is also a proud alumnus of Pembroke College, Oxford, and the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!) and is always happy to hear from alumni of either school.

…quite a lot, actually.

By now, you’ve probably read an article or two on the subject, and know that headhunters are third-party recruiters, tasked with the job of exploring the market to find the best attorneys willing to move for the best firms willing to hire. The very best headhunters aren’t in it to throw mud against the wall to see what sticks, but rather it is in the headhunter’s, the firm’s, and your own interest, to ensure that your transition goes as smoothly as possible, both before and after you are hired.

How exactly do headhunters help? Or, more to the point, how have we helped associates and partners like you? Here are some real-life examples from Lateral Link as proof that the best recruiters really can add value to your search…

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Welcome to the firm.

There’s evidence to suggest that lateral partner hiring doesn’t always turn out well for the law firms that engage in it. Sometimes firms overpay for talent. Sometimes the talent isn’t as talented as they claimed. Sometimes firms fail to integrate lateral partners well. There are many ways for the process to go wrong.

But what about for the lateral partners themselves? Are they more satisfied with the process and their new professional homes?

Survey says….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Katherine Hagman is a Director at Lateral Link where she places associates and partners throughout Chicago and the Midwest. She was a Corporate Recruiter in-house for one of Chicago’s fastest growing companies, and has several years of experience placing attorneys at Chicago law firms and companies. Katherine graduated magna cum laude from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received her J.D. from Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

“We’re hiring!” it says. While intrigued by the opportunity, you are not really sure if you should consider a job change at the moment. You are happy where you are and so it just doesn’t feel like the “right time.” After all, they are nice to me here. It’s not so bad. It’s probably not any better across the street. Then again, maybe it doesn’t hurt to look. You can’t decide what to do!

While it is good to trust your gut, there are concrete elements that are going to be very valuable for your career trajectory as an attorney. For the sake of this article, let’s assume you are happy in your job and that if you weren’t, you would work on fixing that or move on.

I’ve been working with lawyers on their careers for the past seven years and it can be hard to really put your finger on whether or not you’re at the right place. This can change over time and it’s more or less a moving target.

I’ve created this quiz to help you take the temperature of your current job and to help you see if you need to think about moving somewhere warmer. Keep reading below for a breakdown of each question…

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Some former partners of the dearly departed Dewey & LeBoeuf claim that the firm could have survived if not so many partners had defected in the final months. The wishful thinking theory of these Dewey defenders is that if the firm could have held on to more of its top rainmakers, the plan of paying everyone back (slowly) and waiting for work to pick up might have succeeded.

Perhaps learning from Dewey, the leaders of embattled Patton Boggs have been trying to get partners to commit to staying as the firm restructures. Not long ago, managing partner Edward Newberry declared that about 90 percent of the firm’s partners agreed to stick around.

But 90 percent is not 100 percent. Today brings word of more Patton partners headed for the exits. How many? Who are they? And where are they going?

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