If you’ve been at your current firm a while — long enough, for example, that you made partner — it’s likely you’ve never experienced the lateral partner market firsthand. 

Or it may be a while since you’ve thought of a lateral partner move. 

So, you may be feeling some anxiety about the lateral partner interviewing process. It can feel like a throwback to summer associate interviews, complete with uncertainty and anxiety.

I come across this all the time in candidates I work with…partners who have been with their current firm so long that the last time they interviewed was as an associate. At that level, people are trying to gauge your skillset, work ethic, ability to accomplish the tasks assigned to you, and so forth. 

At the lateral partner level, interviews are entirely different.

The firm doesn’t need to test you to see if you can do the job; they already know you can because you’ve been doing it for years.

For lateral partners, there is an entirely different set of factors at play, and understanding them can make all the difference between finding your perfect-fit new law firm or treading water, never getting traction, and feeling unsure about why. 

By knowing what to expect and how to prepare, you can set yourself up to navigate the unique considerations and variables of a lateral partner interview process with confidence and ease, positioning yourself as a strong candidate ready to make a smooth transition to your new firm. 

To delve deeper, continue reading below.   

What Do Firms Assess in a Lateral Partner Interview?

The focus of a lateral partner interview is not whether you have the skills and qualifications to do the job. After all, if you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be a partner with a book of business in the first place. 

Lateral partners have a proven track record and have demonstrated their ability to excel in their practice areas. And their book of business should speak for itself. 

That’s why a lateral partner interview focuses more on cultural fit, client relationships, business development skills, and your goals and plans for the future. 

The firm wants to ensure that your practice and clients align with their own strategic goals and vision; they also want to gauge your potential to bring in new business and expand the firm’s reach. 

Lateral partner interviews may also involve discussions around compensation, equity partnerships, and the partner’s expectations for their role within the firm. 

Since lateral partners are more senior, the process may also involve multiple rounds of interviews with various partners and senior leaders in the firm to ensure a good fit between the lateral partner and the firm’s culture, strategy, and vision. 

If you’re in a particular practice group, and you’re talking with another partner from that practice group, they may be interested in things like:

  • How do you structure a certain kind of deal?
  • What type of contract do you use in a given situation?
  • What argument do you make in one circumstance, or what kind of motion would you make in another?

Remember, it’s unlikely that they’re testing you — they’re probably just talking shop, looking for a colleague they could bounce things off of! 

To that point, here are some more essential things to keep in mind…

It’s an Interview to Establish the Relationship

The lateral partner hiring process is a significant investment for the firm. 

It takes time, effort, and resources to bring on a new partner, and the last thing the firm wants is for that partner to leave after a short period. As such, it’s crucial to find someone with the skills and expertise needed for the job and the right personality, work ethic, and values to fit in with the firm’s culture and long-term goals.

During a lateral partner interview, the firm may ask questions to assess if the candidate shares similar values and work style as the firm. 

They may also be looking for someone who has ideas that can complement the firm’s existing practices or bring in new perspectives. 

The conversation will touch on your experience, past successes, and failures, but these questions are often more of a formality than anything else. The real focus is on getting to know the candidate personally.

This is why lateral partner interviews may feel more like a friendly conversation than a formal job interview. The goal is establishing a rapport and seeing if the candidate and the firm can form a long-lasting relationship. 

Who You Know and How You Practice Matter

The firm will want to understand your practice areas and if you have any clients that could benefit from cross-selling or cross-marketing (they may be wondering if they could pitch with you). 

They will want to understand practicalities like the support you may need, such as marketing support and budget requirements. And if you have anyone from your old firm you would want to bring with you, such as an associate or paralegal. 

They may also be interested in your style; are you a litigator who likes to bring things to an amicable conclusion, where everybody walks away happy? You may not be a good fit for a firm with a scorched-earth approach to litigation. 

Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for the firm to ask about shared acquaintances, past firms, and professional organizations — after all, building relationships and establishing connections is a crucial part of the industry. 

These informal conversations generally aim to build rapport and establish common ground between the interviewer and the candidate. 

Having shared connections and experiences is an asset; having colleagues or organizations in common can help you better understand the firm’s culture and values, which can be invaluable knowledge during the interview process. 

If you have connections with clients or colleagues who could benefit the firm, that may also be a mark in your favor. 

By that same token, it’s also worth remembering that…

You Are Also Interviewing the Firm

Your knowledge, experience, and business book are assets for your prospective new firm. 

So remember, it isn’t just a question of whether or not you are a good fit for them — from our perspective, it’s even more about whether THEY are a good fit for YOU.

If you’re looking for a better platform for your practice, you can and should ask questions during the interview process to determine if a given firm has what you need to succeed. 

  • Do they have cross-marketing? 
  • Do they have the support? 
  • Do they have associates? 
  • Are they people you want to work with every day? (Every firm claims to have a “No Jerks” policy, but for some firms, the policy is flexible when it comes to massive books of business, which can affect the culture.)

At the same time, it’s also crucial to explain why you’re leaving your current firm and to do so in a positive and forward-thinking manner, focusing on strategic reasons. 

Perhaps you’re looking for a Chicago office to serve your clients better, or you see opportunities in the cannabis industry that your current firm is not pursuing.

You can demonstrate your potential for success at the new firm by highlighting your goals and connections.

Nevertheless, remember that The lateral partner interview process is a two-way street!

Ready to Prepare for Your Lateral Partner Interview?

You likely won’t need to prove your skills or qualifications as a lateral partner candidate. However, you should be prepared to discuss your relationships, approach to practicing law, and future goals and be ready to ask questions to determine if a given firm is the best fit for those goals.

Understanding the lateral partner interview process is essential to finding that perfect new platform for your practice, and we can help. 

Let’s schedule a call to discuss your objectives.