My colleague, Abby Gordon continues with part 2 of her advice to young lawyers.
The Lateral Market
15. Always keep your résumé up to date (and your deal sheet or representative matters sheet as well) because you never know when opportunity will knock….
16. Be conscious of your deal experience. To lateral to another firm, you generally need a number of solid years of experience in a specific practice area and not just a hodgepodge of experience in various areas. Keep your firm bio up-to-date and easy to decipher. Keep an up-to-date and ongoing list of the matters you’ve worked on.
17. Take advantage of career resources at your law school (even after graduation) and any resources (alumni affairs coordinators, etc.) at your firm. But be discreet about letting anyone at your firm know you are looking around.
18. Do not give notice at your current job before you have a new job lined up and cleared conflicts. I had a candidate who gave notice at his current firm so he would have more time to interview and look for a new job and the firm where he had an interview scheduled immediately pulled the plug.
19. Understand the lateral market. The lateral market is not the same market you encountered as a summer associate applicant. Just because you were good enough to get an offer at a particular firm then does not mean that same firm or a comparable firm will hire you as a lateral. The bar is much higher now. No matter how amazing you may be, law firms will not hire you unless there is a need for your specific skills.
20. Understand that you have a shelf life. Firms are very particular about the class years they are looking to hire. The vast majority of litigation openings are for second, third or fourth years. If you are even a mid-level (let alone senior) litigator, you may have a very difficult time making a move. Corporate associates are expected to have a bit more experience before lateraling. Even so, do not wait until you are a seventh or eighth year. You will have far fewer options.
21. If you are given an offer but are asked to take a drop in class year, do not look at this as a slap in the face. You would not have an offer in the first place if the firm does not see you as a potential asset. Although it means you will take a slight hit in salary in the short-term, it also means you will have more time to prove yourself before advancement decisions are made. You will be compared to other associates who are less experienced than you.
22. While prestige can be very important when choosing a first firm, do not put too much emphasis on prestige when looking to lateral to a firm where you will likely stay long-term. Often, the less prestigious the firm, the easier it will be to make counsel or partner. Consider the culture, the platform, and your advancement possibilities before prestige.
23. Be selective when it comes to choosing a recruiter. Learn about the recruiter’s background before you commit to working with someone (and keep in mind that there is rarely a need to work with multiple recruiters—it will often come back to hurt you). Do not let recruiters submit you to openings without your pre-approval and be sure to keep an up-to-date list of every firm/company to which you have applied and on which date. Be selective but of course…
24. Be nice to recruiters. Yes, this is a self-serving point, but it constantly amazes me how many associates are rude to recruiters and do not see them as the potential (free) resources of information they are. Even if you are not looking to make a move anytime soon, make the connection for the future. A good recruiter is an expert on the legal industry. Ask the recruiter to give you an update on the market for your practice area. Seek the recruiter’s advice on getting the right deal experience for your long-term goals or on updating your résumé. Get to know a recruiter before you are in a rush to make a move, and let the recruiter get to know you. Law firm associates are busy people, we get that. I was an associate myself so I know firsthand the pressure you are under. But there is never a good reason to be rude or unfriendly. Which leads me to…
25. Be nice to everyone. I cannot emphasize this enough. You never know when you will meet someone again and in what context. We have had candidates not get offers (and rightly so) because they were rude to the receptionist when arriving for an interview. Law firms operate on a hierarchical structure. But when it comes to how you treat other human beings, there is no place for hierarchy.