Tricia McGrath

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 in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post was written by Tricia McGrath, Senior Director at Lateral Link, who works with partner and associate candidates on law firm searches, most often in the New York, California, and Washington, D.C. regions.

When a firm is considering a lateral partner candidate, the firm will perform due diligence on the candidate. The firm will be interested in reviewing materials such as a partner business plan and a lateral partner questionnaire, and will investigate and evaluate the partner and their practice. It is equally important for a lateral partner candidate to conduct his or her own due diligence on a prospective firm. As an equity partner, you will become part owner in a “business,” and should verify that there will be an appropriate return on your investment of time, energy, skill, and capital.

Of course, neither the firm nor the partner can ascertain with 100% certainty that a lateral relationship will work. However, appropriate due diligence can minimize the risk of failure, as important facts are revealed and future expectations can be managed. While there are many areas in which you’d like insight, three top concerns are (1) the firm’s financials, (2) the firm’s management, and (3) the firm’s culture….

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This week, Lateral Link Director Tricia McGrath shares the inside scoop on what fifth years need to do to make sure they stay on track to become partner, and avoid the pitfalls that come with being passed over continually.

Law firm economics changed substantially over the past decade. Law firms now run like “businesses,” in corporate America parlance. In the last few years, many associates at top firms who thought that they were “on track” for partnership were unexpectedly passed over. Unfortunately, market conditions suggest that many more will be passed over in future years.

As a recruiter, I frequently speak with senior associates who were on the wrong side of partnership decisions, and as a result, realized the “out” side of the firm’s “up-and-out” policy. Many of these overlooked associates are now wondering how the train went off the track so quickly. Don’t the years of solid billables and strong reviews account for anything? For most of these associates, their best-case scenarios are a new position at another Biglaw firm with a three-year partner look — often going in to their new firm as a fifth or sixth year — or an in-house position at significantly less compensation (in most cases). Often, neither of these options is particularly attractive for the candidate.

How can you protect yourself from becoming a senior associate who has been passed over, has no business, and has limited job prospects?

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