Lateral Moves

It’s springtime in D.C., and we all know what that means. No, we’re not talking about the cherry blossoms; that was last month. We’re talking about the spinning of the revolving door.

We have some interesting moves to mention taking place in the nation’s capital. One top government lawyer is returning to private practice; one top Biglaw partner is going back to government, perhaps for good; and one major law firm, potentially party to a high-profile merger, is losing some partners to a rival — after holding them prisoner for a while….

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Kristina Marlow

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Kristina Marlow is a Director with Lateral Link’s D.C. office who brings almost 20 years of experience in the Washington legal market to her work with associate and partner candidates. Prior to joining Lateral Link, Kristina spent a decade at Gibson Dunn, first as a litigation associate and then as the D.C. office’s hiring manager. A Michigan native, Kristina earned her J.D., cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center’s evening program and a B.A. in Journalism from Michigan State University, where she was named “Outstanding Senior.” She also worked as an appellate clerk, as an economic analyst for the federal government, and as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

The job seeker had done (almost) everything right: Graduated with honors from a top law school, clerked for an appellate court, practiced at an “A-List” firm, and then went to a government agency to top off his experience and make him partnership material. Imagine his shock when I advised him that landing a general litigation position in Biglaw now that he was 12 years out of law school would be tough without a book of business. After all, he had seen the “revolving door” in Washington; how could it be shut now, he wondered? I conceded that many attorneys in D.C. do move with ease between government and private practice, but that the ones he read about in the Washington Post were high-level officials who firms know will bring in business. “And I’m just a worker bee,” he acknowledged….

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Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who offers an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

Today I continue to address some of the questions that I have received from you by email. Once again, I note that these are simply my personal views on the questions presented.

Current Associates

1. How do law firms assess job moves on a résumé, particularly when the moves were dictated by life circumstances (such as the need to follow a spouse into a secondary legal market)?

There is an unspoken belief amongst many recruitment professionals that a candidate who has moved around too often is a problematic candidate.  Whether this is true or not, recruitment professionals view a fifth-year candidate who has already been at three firms as easily discontented. The thought then becomes — why would this candidate be happy at our firm? How are we any different than his or her previous employers? While candidates are often able to explain their moves (e.g., personal circumstances), recruiters then question the depth of experience that a candidate has had to date. Is a candidate who has stayed at one firm for five years more experienced that a fifth-year associate who has moved firms three times?  In my experience, employers always favor the former candidate. Partners like loyalty and depth of experience, be it actual or perceived.

2. How long after graduation should an associate remain at a less than ideal job in a secondary market before submitting a résumé to a Biglaw firm in a more desirable location, such as New York or Chicago?

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The Houston legal market is hot — and a lot of the heat is being generated by Kirkland & Ellis. As we reported last month, K&E recently launched a Houston office with talent poached from a rival.

Kirkland hired Andrew Calder away from Simpson Thacher, for a reported $5 million a year for the next three-plus years. We’ve heard that these figures are a bit high — that he’s hitting the $5 million mark in his first year, thanks to a signing bonus, but not guaranteed at that level for the subsequent years — but there’s no denying that he’s being paid very, very well.

And there’s no denying that K&E will pay what it takes to break into the Houston market. Who’s the latest up-and-coming young partner to get invited into the Kirkland club?

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Juan Monteverde and Alexandra Marchuk

The courtroom battle between Alexandra Marchuk and the litigation boutique where she once worked, Faruqi & Faruqi, rages on. As longtime readers will recall, Marchuk alleges that F&F partner Juan Monteverde sexually harassed her, in severe fashion, and that the firm’s leaders ignored his alleged misdeeds.

But no matter who wins in court, it’s possible to argue that the firm is ending up the loser. It has endured extensive bad publicity, and some of the resulting instability has apparently led to lawyer departures.

Who are the latest attorneys to defect from Faruqi & Faruqi?

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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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