Levenfeld Pearlstein

Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Brian Kozminski, a partner in LP’s Real Estate practice.

For those thinking about switching firms, one of the most important things to consider about any prospective new firm is the way in which it is managed. Preferably efficiently, transparently, and in a business-like manner. But because you are in the legal profession, that is likely not the case. Sound harsh? Let me explain.

In order to understand how fully stacked the decks are against good management in law firms, it’s instructive to step back and compare how management choices are made in law firms with other industries.

If you owned a restaurant, for instance, you probably would not assume that your best chef would also make the best restaurant manager. If you owned a movie studio, you probably would not assume that your best director would also make the best CFO. If you owned a basketball team, you probably would not assume that a great point guard would also make a great coach and president of your team. (Or you would, then regret it later.)

The restaurant, movie studio, and basketball team owners (with the exception of the Knicks) understand that the skills of their top producers — however impressive — are not necessarily transferable to executive positions. Law firms are only learning this lesson now. Following a historic practice that continues to this day, many firms are run by the lawyers with the biggest books of business.

It does not go too far to call this practice absurd. Certainly, yes, at any law firm it makes sense to place lawyers in the leadership positions of, for instance, managing partner and chairman. And there may be some overlap between the qualities needed to succeed in those positions — charisma being one — and those helpful in becoming a rainmaker. But to ask those lawyers to also make the trains run on time — to administer the business operations of the firm — is courting disaster, for any number of reasons…

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Laura Friedel, a partner in LP’s Labor & Employment practice.

In this column, we’ve been talking about the process of making a lateral move. Everyone knows the major stages of that process: deciding to check out lateral opportunities, evaluating potential new firms, interviewing with those firms, and, eventually, accepting an offer. That’s it. For lateral candidates, landing at a new firm is the endgame, right? Wrong.

The lateral journey does not end when you place the potted plant and picture of your family on your new desk. In a very real way, that’s just when the lateral journey starts. Beginning on their first day with a new firm, laterals who want to be successful need to make a concerted push to win over their new colleagues, one that involves a lot of hard work and time spent getting to know partners.

This may seem a little unfair. After all, by the time a lateral begins working at a new firm, she has been thoroughly vetted, the finances of her practice have been closely examined, and she’s on a first-name basis with several maître d’s due to those never-ending interview lunches. At which point, the lateral may feel an understandable — but mistaken — certainty that upon her arrival, her new partners will be leaping over themselves to herald her arrival and shower her with work…

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Rob Romanoff, LP’s Managing Partner.

You’re 35-50 years old. You’re a partner at a large law firm, thinking about leaving for something smaller. You’ve been given an offer by a firm that interests you. The firm has a good reputation, steady business, and a solid practice in your area. It consists mostly of partners over 60 and associates younger than you.

Is this a great opportunity, or a career dead-end? Based on the above, it could be either. You’re missing a fact critical to determining whether this — and many other lateral opportunities — is one worth pursing, or one that should be avoided. That fact is this: what is the firm’s succession plan?

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Angela Hickey, LP’s Executive Director and a member of the firm’s Executive and Compensation Committees.

There’s a point in budding relationships where things get down to brass tacks. You put away the flowers and candles, and find out whether you have a long-term future. You have full and frank discussions about kids, religion, finances, and how those troublesome in-laws might fit into your future life. It may not be as romantic as your weekend in the Berkshires at that place with the clawfoot tub, but it’s necessary. Because you just might find, away from the clean mountain air and raspberry scones that the bed and breakfast served each morning, that you’ve got a serious issue or two. You might in fact . . . have a dealbreaker. And that, in a word, is why prospective laterals should take the due diligence process as seriously as firms do.

The due diligence process — some version of which all respectable firms will have in place — is the offering firm’s last and best chance to closely examine the lateral before extending an offer. (In the case of fast-moving lateral hires, the hiring firm may even give a conditional offer before or simultaneous with due diligence.)

Because of its timing, there is a temptation to think of due diligence as a mere formality before the lateral picks up stakes. But it is a rigorous process, and one that laterals can and should use to perform their own final checks…

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Laura Friedel, a partner in the firm’s Labor & Employment group.

In the legal profession, the view from the top is pretty good. If you’ve been lucky enough to snag a position at one of the 100 or so firms loosely defined as “Biglaw,” you’re probably looking out a window near the top of a shiny skyscraper. You probably have a nice cafeteria down the hall. Who knows: at your glam partner retreats, you may even take chartered boats down the Thames.

The point is, while that view from Biglaw is a good one, it’s not the easiest vantage point to assess your career options. I’ve been there. And when I began to think about alternatives to a Biglaw practice, I admit I did not fully realize that mid-sized firms even existed. In my mind, there were Biglaw firms, boutiques, and that’s about it. I was something like the native New Yorker who is only dimly aware that a mass of states lies between herself and the only other meaningful part of the country, California.

Thankfully, just as flyover states do in fact exist, so too do mid-sized firms that provide sophisticated, full-service capabilities to their clients. For the Biglaw practitioner facing rate pressure from clients, frustrations with the anonymity that goes with mega-firm practice, or perhaps nosebleeds from the trip up the elevator, they are worth considering along with obvious alternatives such as in-house positions.

And as Biglaw lawyers investigate mid-sized firms, they will likely find more misperceptions falling away. I’ll share a few here that opened my eyes further, and that make the mid-sized firm alternative an attractive one…

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Shelly Leonida, LP’s Director of Human Resources.

It’s 10:30 on a Wednesday morning, you’re cranking away at that brief, and your office line rings. You don’t recognize the number. You put your head down, waiting for voicemail to pick up so you can get back to the finer points of Massachusetts estoppel law. Because you know, inevitably, that on the other end of that line is yet another headhunter.

Sure, it’s annoying. But don’t let that experience turn you off from recruiters when it comes time to make a move. For one thing, let’s be honest: having too many people trying to get you a job isn’t the worst thing in the world. For another, recruiters taking the scattershot, cold-calling approach — testing your interest in a real estate practice in LA, when you’re quite happy at your corporate group in Chicago — are not the best representatives of the profession. The fact is, they can help. And I don’t just say that because I used to be one myself.

Brokers fill important roles in many markets, and recruiters — though not “brokers” in the strictest sense — do just that in the market for legal talent. First, and maybe most importantly, they are valuable sources of information. That may sound like a superfluous role in the Internet age, given all the information available on law firms’ websites and candidates’ LinkedIn profiles. But neither firms nor prospective laterals put everything out there for the world to see, and that’s where recruiters can be handy…

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by the firm’s chairman, Bryan Schwartz.

I spent all of July on sabbatical from the law. I didn’t field a single work-related email, or phone call, or even check the news. For an entire month, I focused on fly-fishing, golf, and family. I focused on myself.

Now, I don’t say all that to make anyone jealous. (If I were going to do that, I would have mentioned my week in Punta Cana.) I say that because, as I sit down to write about how law firm “culture” should impact lateral decision making, I keep coming back to my sabbatical. I was as unplugged from legal practice as I’ve been in years — okay, decades — but it told me more about culture than any month in the office.

As anyone who has been through it knows, the recruiting process is rife with talk about law firm culture. Interviews that pass without glowing reference to a firm’s “collegial culture” are as rare as sightings of the Dodo bird. But let’s face it: some minimum amount of camaraderie among peers is a pretty low bar to meet.

The cultural questions that should concern laterals most do not have to do with the frequency of happy hours, the annual barbeque, or the degree of a partnership’s collective inebriation at the holiday party. Instead, the most important question of culture is this: does this firm have a motivating purpose beyond the production of income for its individual lawyers?

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Angela Hickey, LP’s Executive Director and a member of the firm’s Executive and Compensation Committees.

Gladys Knight had the Pips, Han Solo had Chewbacca, and Walter White had Jessie Pinkman. To be successful, you need the right support — and that lesson is as true in legal practice as it is on the Millennium Falcon

Lateral candidates, however, often travel to their new firms alone. How can they tell, ahead of time, whether this new firm will give them the support they need for their practice to flourish? What questions can they ask to discover what their new support system will look like? The first step in getting answers is to define what the oft-used term “support” really means…

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Rob Romanoff, the Managing Partner of Levenfeld Pearlstein.

When it comes to the ultimate departure, you can’t take it with you. When it comes to professional departures, however, it’s a different matter entirely. Whether or not you can take it with you — that is, whether your clients will follow you to a new firm — is a very open question indeed, and a critical one in any lateral candidate’s recruitment.

But how much portable business is enough to catch the eye of suitor firms? How can lateral candidates even determine the amount of their portable business? And how do they actually go about moving it? Let’s consider these questions in turn…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by Lateral Link. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Rob Romanoff is Managing Partner of Chicago-based Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. He is also a partner in the firm’s Trusts & Estates Group. Rob has extensive experience in estate, gift and income tax planning and broad-based wealth transfer planning for high net worth individuals and owners of closely held businesses and their families. Rob is a fellow in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC).

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