5 Tips for Making a Lateral Law Firm Move as a Junior Attorney

Spending countless hours on your job search, selecting the right firms, investing every moment for the right match, and interviewing like crazy for months, all while staying right up in your current job, can make you mentally and emotionally exhausted.

With a focused career goal, you can make your “entry level” or “lateral move” job hunt a little less exhausting.  Below are five tips for making a lateral law firm move as a junior attorney:

#1—Finish strong in the early stages.

For law school students, no matter what anyone else says, or how unfair it may seem, your first-year grades are most important.  All law firms, indeed, all employers will use your first-year grades during your second-year interview season to evaluate you for a summer associate position.  Typically, that summer associate position is designed to lead to full-time employment as an associate after you graduate from law school.  If you are aiming for that type of position, keep your first-year grades as high as you can.  If you are lucky enough to secure a summer associate position during your second-year for your second-year summer, remember that your second and third-year grades continue to be used in the evaluation process.  As you progress in your career, eventually, you may seek to lateral to another firm or move to an in-house role.  Although it may seem unfair or unreasonable, given the experience you may have gained, your grades from each year and your cumulative GPA will continue to be a part of the pre-interview evaluation process.

With respect to your experience, as you progress, in addition to your grades, a potential new law firm employer will review your experience with a fine-tooth comb.  Therefore, to make yourself most marketable, you need to ensure that you are gaining experience that meets or exceeds your law school graduation class year benchmarks.  In other words, you need to manage your own professional development and request the experience and training that you need.

#2—Understand the lateral market.

As an experienced attorney, the lateral legal market is markedly different than the market in which you competed for summer associate positions as a law school student.  Just as years have passed, so to do law firm needs.  In considering the lateral market, your opportunities are different.  To be successful in making your move, consider that the bar for hiring may even be higher now because law firm practice group leaders are considering your grades as well as your experience.

No matter how amazing you are, law firms will not hire you unless there is a need for your specific skillset.  Your firm will employ you as long as you perform at a high level, you increase and develop your skills, you have support within firm culture, and as long as the practice group needs those skills.  In exchange, opportunities for professional growth will come to you and that grown will help situate you for your next position.

#3—Do your homework.

If you find yourself stagnating at your current firm, and you need to make a move, explore all of your options.  You should talk to past and present associates of the firms you are considering and find out what they think, but ask the right questions to avoid misunderstanding.  The source of the information plays a vital role here.  If you inquire about why a particular associate left the firm, you need to find out why he or she left, and if the reason was particular to that associate or was a systemic condition at the firm.

As you interview, investigate whether the practice group or department you will be joining has any persnickety or personality-challenged partners/associates.  If you are prepared for the situation before you start, you will better manage any obstacles or unanticipated situations as they arise.  Although your discrete inquiries can uncover some of these challenges before you start, be ready for unanticipated hurdles after you join your new organization.  If you are prepared, flexible, and professional, you will be better able to use “emotional intelligence” to manage the human element at any institution you join.

#4—Know your environment.

Be prepared for the possibility that your new firm will do little to incorporate you into its culture.  Don’t expect your firm to provide you with a list of “dos” and “don’ts” on the first day.  You’ll have to learn the unwritten rules yourself.

Spend time learning about the firm’s people, its culture, political system, and history.  Find friends and mentors.  Be proactive.  Always introduce yourself to everyone – partners, counsel, associates, and staff.  Also, be nice to everyone.  As you learn the firm culture, look for associates who are the most successful and find out what those associates did to achieve that success.  Your peers and colleagues will be your best resource in yielding that kind of “inside scoop.”

#5—Conduct a self-evaluation.

Though self-evaluation sometimes is difficult, think about the mistakes you’ve made and review your opportunities for better performance.  Learn from those instances and try not to repeat the same mistake over and over.  Meet with a partner, senior attorney or your mentor to evaluate your performance.  Their feedback and suggestions will definitely help you to improve.

As you prepare to make your lateral move, you will undoubtedly run into unexpected obstacles.  However, if you keep these tips in mind, you will be better prepared, and your search should proceed more smoothly, ultimately, landing you in the position of your dreams.  As you consider your move, don’t be afraid to ask for help from or brainstorm ideas with a seasoned professional or a trusted senior attorney mentor or friend.  For more help with your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to contact a Lexacount Search Consultant at 215-740-0104 or info@lexacount.com.

Jacqueline Hill, Esq.

This post was written by .

Jacqueline Hill is a partner at Lexacount Search, where she places top senior-level and other legal talent with law firms and corporate legal departments across the United States. She has been writing about careers, lawyers, attorney professional development, and the legal industry for more than a decade. She can be reached at jacqueline.hill@lexacount.com or 215-740-0104, extension 101.

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