The lateral partner hiring market has experienced blazing growth in recent years, and new data shows that trend only accelerated in 2022 — as much as 18% over the previous year. 

The numbers don’t lie: lateral partner hiring is now a vital growth strategy for major law firms nationwide. Despite the recession, we expect lateral partner moves to continue because they have become essential to firm growth. 

Firms need partners to grow. But what do lateral partners look for when evaluating a potential new firm?

I’ve found the most critical factors that influence lateral partners in evaluating and choosing a firm can fall into three categories: 

  • Personal 
  • Client
  • Firm 

 So in this post, let’s delve deeper and explore each factor in more detail to understand better the kinds of things lateral partners usually consider when making this critical decision. 

Read on to discover the 3 key reasons lateral partners choose the firms they do. 

#1: Personal Considerations

A greater focus on work-life balance is often a motivator for a move and, therefore, also a criterion for choosing a new firm. This isn’t always the case but often is. 

In a field notorious for grueling and irregular hours, demanding workloads, and employees accustomed to spending nearly half their waking time at the office, however, there is plenty of debate around what work-life balance can look like for legal professionals. 

Nevertheless, as we have discussed on this blog multiple times, a healthy work-life balance can and should be achievable in the legal industry, especially once you are a rainmaking partner with a book of business that brings real value to the firm. 

Long hours and working weekends are inevitable occasionally. Still, when they are the norm, they take a heavy toll on your physical and mental health and personal life — not to mention your professional capacity. 

Lawyers are human beings, after all; they get tired, overwhelmed, stressed, and burned out just like anyone else. Rainmaking partners have the option of seeking a firm with better staffing and support so that long hours are not their norm.

Not all moves are about work-life balance, however. Some lateral partners seek a change in their career trajectory or a shift in their work. 

They may be looking to focus on a particular industry or focus area that their current firm does not offer or will not allow them to pursue. 

Sometimes they want a leadership role not available at their current firm. In these cases, lateral partners may seek a firm that can offer them opportunities to grow their careers and achieve their goals.

Finally, many lateral partners seek flexibility regarding remote work or location. 

For example, some partners may be looking to move to a firm with an office closer to their home, reducing their commute time and giving them more time for other activities. 

Others may be seeking a firm that offers more opportunities to work remotely, allowing them to balance their personal and professional commitments more flexibly.

#2: Client-Related Considerations

Client relationships are often a driving force behind a change. 

Firm resources, adequate associate-level talent, and staff support are crucial client-level needs. Partners often look for firms that have enough resources to support and grow their book of business.  

Or, partners may need additional specialized expertise or practice area. A partner may have clients that need tax expertise that their firm doesn’t have and lose business as a result. 

Similarly, suppose a lateral partner works with clients in a particular location. In that case, they may be looking for a firm with an office in that location, making meeting with clients easier and providing local knowledge. And, since a partner can’t appear in court unless admitted in that state and the firm has office there, there is often a need for local counsel.

Some lateral partners will want rate flexibility at their new firm or the ability to grandfather a client at the same rate they’ve been charging to help them retain their clients and grow their book of business. 

For example, the ability to charge flat fees or bill at a competitive rate can appeal to lateral partners who need to ensure their clients are comfortable with the move. Rate flexibility is also often the reason for the move in the first place.

Lateral partners move with a book of clients. If you are the firm, you want to make this move appealing to the clients as much as the partner. If you are a partner, you must be sure you can fully support your clients and grow your book. 

#3: Firm-Related Considerations

Whether due to disagreements with the firm’s strategy, a lack of a strong succession plan, a culture that doesn’t align with their values and goals, feeling unappreciated, or something else entirely, there are plenty of firm-related reasons a partner may seek a lateral move.

Like anyone else, partners want to work in an environment that values their contributions, recognizes their achievements, and offers room for advancement. 

Additionally, many partners evaluate a firm’s national or international platform and reputation. Concerns about footprint can tie directly to a firm’s strategy. Partners often consider firm strategy when evaluating a firm because knowing where a firm is going matters. 

Compensation structure and origination credit policies are also critical firm-related factors. Rainmakers want to ensure firms compensate them fairly for their work and that they receive appropriate credit for their contributions to the firm’s success. A fair and transparent approach to compensation and origination is essential.

The firm’s financial health is also essential to consider as an indicator of its stability and long-term viability. If a firm struggles financially, it may not provide its partners with the necessary support and resources, which could negatively impact their ability to serve clients effectively. 

Additionally, a firm’s financial health can impact its ability to invest in technology, marketing, and other resources essential for staying competitive in the legal industry. Finally, a firm’s financial health can impact the compensation and benefits it can offer its partners.

I often hear from partners who feel they don’t get enough support for their networking and business development activities. Business development support, from marketing resources to cross-selling and cross-marketing,  can significantly impact a rainmaker’s ability to bring in business. Hence, firms with more help are attractive. 

Lateral partners also frequently consider the expected in-office environment. 

Don’t forget; some people like coming into the office and seeing their team in a collegial environment around the conference table! Others prefer the flexibility of remote or hybrid work. It all depends on what an individual chooses and is seeking, but a firm’s in-office environment is likely to be part of the equation one way or the other.

Need More Guidance?

There are as many reasons to move as there are partners moving. This post outlines the most common reasons, but ultimately it comes down to fit. Partners should seek out their exact right perfect fit firm, while firms should communicate their value to attract exact right perfect fit candidates. 

As a lateral partner, you need to have all the necessary information before deciding to join a new firm; you will want to ask many nit-picky questions. That’s our role; we ask all the questions for you so you get the answers without being too pushy.  

We also take on getting the questions answered, leaving you free to focus on your work and your clients while still helping you make a careful and informed choice about which firm best fits you. And, of course, if there are any misunderstandings or miscommunications, you can just blame the recruiter! 

Likewise, connecting with a recruiter can benefit law firms in multiple ways. Recruiters have access to a vast network of potential candidates and can help firms identify top talent that aligns with their specific needs and requirements. Additionally, recruiters can streamline the hiring process, saving time and resources for the firm. 

Remember, though, that all recruiters are not created equal.

Many recruiters get a bad reputation for seeking to arbitrarily fill positions without regard for whether the firm is the best possible fit for a given individual beyond the requisite skill set. 

However, at Gillman Strategic Group, we take a candidate-first approach. Our process starts with understanding what’s holding you back and what you need from the new platform.  

Finding that exact right, perfect-fit match is the secret to a long-term, lucrative, and fulfilling professional relationship for both lateral partners and the firms hoping to attract them. 

Ready to learn more? Let’s schedule a call.