When is the best time to find your perfect-fit law firm as a lateral partner?

I hear this question often, and I understand why. After all, rainmakers didn’t get where they are by NOT thinking carefully through their decisions.

So should you move at the end of the year, after budgets are set, when firms make promotions, before or after the holidays? 

The truth is, it’s a trick question.

The best time for law firm partners to make a lateral move is when you are ready and motivated. The time of year is irrelevant; the real question is how long it will take since the process can be slow. 

I’ve seen partners successfully transition at all different times of the year. The key is to find the timing that best fits your personal needs and priorities rather than trying to match an arbitrary date on the calendar.

And if it’s already mid-December and you haven’t started the process, it’s also worth realizing that waiting an entire additional year is NOT your only option. Start the process now and make the transition when it is best for you. 

To be honest, I lied in the title. If you are ready to move, the true best time to start was six months ago; the second is now. Starting now gives you options in the future. So let’s talk about planning your move. 

The end-of-year lateral move isn’t a rule. 

Making a move at the beginning or end of the year seems logical due to compensation calendars and bonuses. But even though it’s convenient for those reasons, it may not be a great time for other reasons. 

The last quarter is usually a hectic time for everyone — especially for rainmakers, who are intensely focused on collections and wrapping up client demands before December 31.

Holiday festivities, vacations, and family obligations are also notoriously time-consuming and not easily rescheduled for interviews. 

Also, the process itself takes time. Making the decision to move, interviewing, and transitioning to a new firm all in the last month of the year is, well, unlikely. 

The Calendar Does Matter, But Not in the Way You Might Think.

Motivated partners can switch firms successfully at any time of the year. The more relevant factor is the time it takes to transition. There’s no fixed timeline for law firm lateral hiring. It depends on many factors, some outside of your control and others that rely entirely on you. (I’ve previously written about this timeline in more detail on this blog.)

Although fast transitions can and do happen, they are hardly the norm and often not in your best interest because they don’t give you the opportunity to have a full view of the market.

Expect your search to take a few months, at least. Take your time: you want to interview firms, get to know them, and make sure you are making the right move for you. So, instead of the calendar dictating the time to move, use the calendar to plan. 

We can negotiate financial issues and timing.

Logically, you want to announce your departure after collecting all of your year-end payments. 

However, unless you plan your move perfectly, you’ll always leave something on the table. The firm you are going to understands this, and we can negotiate to have them pay you for what you leave behind. 

If there are important reasons why you need to stay, then we can negotiate the timing. Maybe you have to put your transition off for a couple of months for compensation or other reasons; perhaps you’re in the middle of a trial or deal and can’t move until it’s over. 

We’ll talk about your timeline and find a way to make the transition work for you on your terms. 

More important than what you’re leaving behind is the opportunity you aren’t capturing 

Rainmakers are prone to underestimating or misunderstanding their value to and leverage within their firm. (I go into more depth in this post on rainmaker compensation and this one on law firm economics.) If you fall into this trap, you end up under-compensated, even if you stay.  

Or maybe you understand your value and potential but can’t live up to it because you don’t have the necessary resources to develop it. 

We’ll negotiate for the best possible deal, and the new firm will probably make you whole, but even if they don’t, the real benefit to you is in the opportunity.

If you can double your book of business, capture more origination, serve your clients better, or have more time with your family, then the opportunity cost of staying at your current firm is more than anything you might miss out on by leaving.  

It’s Never Too Early to Take Control.

My best advice: don’t worry about the calendar; focus more on why you want to move and what the opportunity looks like. Everything is negotiable, from compensation to timing; the key is to find the best situation for you.

The “best” time is when you decide you are ready. 

Don’t let perceived deadlines deter you from seeking a better platform for your practice and career. The recruiting process takes time, and we can manage it so you make your move on your terms.

If you have reached the point where you are ready for change, schedule a call with me. I will walk you through the process, handling logistics and details so you can remain focused on your legal practice. 

Together, we will determine the optimal path and timeline for you to land at your exact right, perfect-fit firm.

The time is now. Let’s talk.