I spoke on a panel with two other in-house lawyers at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law a little while ago, and I learned two interesting things about lateral mobility. I’m not one to keep secrets (other than client confidences, of course), so I figure I’ll share.
The first item came from a question a law student asked of Steve Beard, who’s the general counsel of Heidrick & Struggles, a recruiting firm. The student asked when the best times are during your legal career to make a lateral move. I didn’t have a clue, and Beard works for a headhunter, so I figured it was time to listen.
Beard said that headhunters will call you most aggressively at three times in your life. First, you’ll get calls when you’re roughly a third-year associate. At that point, the market perceives that you’ve been trained in the fundamentals of being a lawyer. If someone is looking for a competent person still early in a legal career, that’s more or less the time.
You’ll then apparently have to endure a few years of relative silence. The phone won’t start to ring regularly again until you’re six or seven years out of law school. The market will then perceive you as having become a fully formed lawyer, capable of performing most of the tasks in your niche. Corporations figure that they can hire a sixth-year associate, train the candidate about a particular business, and fit the person easily into a corporate structure….