Law Life: Making a smart lateral move

By Correy Stephenson

The Daily Record Newswire

Lawyers are increasing making lateral moves in their practices, but few are familiar with the process.

To guide both lateral recruits and the firms that might hire them, Adam S. Weiss has written "The Lateral Lawyer: Opportunities & Pitfalls for the Law Firm Partner."

Despite the economic recession, lawyers continue to move laterally, Weiss notes, either because of dissatisfaction with their current firm or a desire to grow their practice and work with a more compatible platform or set of clients.

The book walks attorneys through the lateral recruiting process, dividing it into three parts.

The first step is the referral, where the candidate and the law firm connect. Firms typically request four key pieces of information from lateral recruits at the outset of the process: their current hourly billing rate, current compensation, the size and nature of their book of business and the typical number of hours they bill in a year.

While laterals may be hesitant to provide such information, it is a standard request and kept confidential, Weiss says. He provides a sample e-mail memo to illustrate the information firms consider.

Weiss describes the next step as the discovery process or due diligence: an exchange of information between the attorney and the firm.

This phase typically takes the form of at least an initial interview and forms to be completed by the candidate, covering issues like conflicts of interest, work history and business affiliations, for example.

The book offers interview tips for lateral recruits, from learning as much about the firm in advance as possible -- including the bios of the interviewers -- to boning up on hot topics in law firm management. Be sure to have some talking points prepared, Weiss suggests, including notable cases or matters that you have handled or your business development efforts.

And be prepared for questions like, "Why are you looking to leave your current firm?" and "Why are you interested in this firm?" and "How much pressure are your clients giving you to discount your rates?"

Lateral candidates should be careful to avoid certain topics, including money, Weiss advises. The time to discuss compensation comes after the firm actually makes an offer, and even if an interviewer raises the subject, try to demur. In addition, while it is important to explain your desire to move to a new firm, avoid criticizing your current firm and colleagues.

Presentation and appearance are important, and personality is a genuine issue, Weiss emphasizes. Stray remarks can leave an impression on interviewers, so keep the jokes to a minimum and avoid controversial topics like politics and religion.

The third and final phase is the "negotiation of the offer," which is a very different situation with a lateral than with a new hire, Weiss explains.

When an attorney is hired fresh out of law school, or as a low-level associate, a firm typically has a set compensation formula based on experience.

But the more years of practice and the bigger the book of business a lateral attorney brings, the more complicated the negotiations. Weiss cautions that this phase has the potential to be "fraught with misunderstanding."

Ultimately, he advises relying on a "gut feel" about whether the new firm will be a good fit.

To purchase a copy of "The Lateral Lawyer: Opportunities & Pitfalls for the Law Firm Partner," go to www.laterallawyer.com/buy-now/

Published: Thu, Sep 8, 2011