lateral partners

Cravath partners enjoy discounts at Subway, among other perquisites.

It’s rare for partners to leave Cravath, given the prestige, pay, and perks associated with partnership at the firm. And it’s especially rare for a Cravath partner to leave for a rival firm, as opposed to a Wall Street investment bank or major corporation.

Cravath has a very specific system for running itself, and that system has served Cravath very well over the years. As its competitors expend increasing amounts of effort to climb the prestige hierarchy and expand across the globe, Cravath remains at the top, serenely servicing its clients — and printing money for its partners. Part of the reason why Cravath so rarely loses partners to other firms is that it’s so profitable overall that even a partner being paid under Cravath’s lockstep system still does better than a “star” partner at many other firms.

So that’s why today’s news is so notable. A prominent young partner at Cravath has decided to leave Worldwide Plaza and take his talents across town.

Who is the partner in question, and where is he headed?

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Bill Henderson

It’s kind of like the Hunger Games. You’re just trying to survive.

– an anonymous partner quoted by Professor William Henderson in a presentation today at Unlocking the Law: Building on the Work of Larry Ribstein. Professor Henderson noted that today many partners move laterally not for greater prestige or pay but for sheer survival.

(One factor that’s keeping partners up at night, after the jump.)

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The number one priority is to generate revenue, and the quickest way to generate short-term revenue is to bring in a lateral partner with a good book of business. But it doesn’t always work. Look at Dewey.

Russ Haskin, Director of Consulting and Services at LexisNexis, commenting on Biglaw’s continued lateral partner hiring spree.

‘We’re going to a new firm!’

Even in a world where “Who’ll be the next Dewey?” is a Biglaw parlor game and the general legal job market hits the bottom and keeps digging, there still are a few bright spots for the industry. Some examples: law firm associate classes, though contracted, appear to have stabilized, revenues for the largest law firms grew by the highest rate since 2007, and lateral hiring is back in a big way.

According to NALP, the volume of 2011 lateral hiring was up by nearly 50 percent compared with 2010, with associates accounting for almost three-quarters of the lateral traffic. Obviously, the data is not in for this year, but according to one veteran headhunter we spoke with, the revived lateral attorney market has continued through 2012. Admittedly, this trend is not a bright spot if one believes that a fast-flowing lateral market is a key ingredient in the recipe for more Deweys. But at the very least, we are in a better environment for those looking to make a lateral move.

Unlike much of the labor marketplace, legal recruitment generally has not migrated online. In the large firm context, would-be lateral attorneys continue to require the specialized knowledge and carefully cultivated relationships of the legal recruiter. Today, the ATL Career Center launches its Practicing Lawyers section, which features a Recruiter Directory, a new resource for those of you looking for greener pastures. After the jump, check out the founding members of the Directory….

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