One of the first questions potential candidates have “is how long does a lateral partner transition take?” “What is the law firm lateral hiring timeline?”

The short and generally unsatisfying answer is it depends.  

Many factors go into the timeline; some are outside your control, and others depend entirely on you.  

We have learned through years of legal recruiting that you should not rush the process. If you want to be happier in your work, you must spend time finding the right fit. 

Fast transitions do happen, but they are unusual and don’t often yield the best results. So, my advice is to plan for a couple of months, at least, to find your exact right perfect fit firm. The good news is that with the right help, you can keep the disruption to your day-to-day to a minimum (and maintain confidentiality). 

In this post, I’ll take you through the law firm lateral hiring timeline as we see (and practice) it. Then I’ll give you some guidance on what you can do to manage the timeline. 

The Law Firm Lateral Hiring Timeline

Law firm lateral hire timeline

In truth, this is a misnomer; there is no one law firm lateral hiring timeline. Every situation differs. So, instead, I’ll explain the steps and give you a framework to use as a guide.

In our process, there are five steps to a lateral partner move: 

  1. Assessment
  2. Craft Your Plan
  3. Review the List
  4. Interview 
  5. Close the Deal

These are how we manage the lateral partner recruiting process. I go through each of these below. 

Assessment

Timeline: 1 week 

The initial meeting takes about half an hour on the phone, but it can take some time to align calendars. So, from the time you reach out to us to having this initial conversation takes about a week. 

This meeting is crucial, and the Gillman Strategic Group approach to this meeting is one aspect of our process that sets us apart. 

We use this initial conversation as a reality check. We want to understand your current situation, what you need, and what you want.   

Our approach is one of understanding. We want to ensure you end up in the right firm for you, and sometimes you are already at that firm. 

Whatever the opportunity is, we will tell you here, and you can decide if it is worth going on to the next stage. 

Craft your plan

1 week to 1 month

The next step is to craft your Lateral Partner Business Plan. This step is often the most challenging part for you, the partner making the transition. 

It is challenging because we need to understand not just your portable business, which is essential, but also your plan for yourself. Completing the Business Plan can feel like work if you are not used to creating a plan for yourself and your career.

Generally, the plan takes a couple of hours to complete. But it may also take a few hours of reflection (perhaps a glass of wine or two as well). You can do this in a day; generally, it takes about a week, and sometimes you take a bit longer, up to a month.

The timing depends on you. 

Review the List

1 week to 1 month

Once we have your business plan, we go to work compiling a list of potential perfect fit firms. 

We rely heavily on our direct experience with firms to match your needs to the right culture. We use your Business Plan to understand your needs, which is why the Business Plan is so important.  

Compiling the list takes us a few days, we try to have it within a week, but it can take longer. We then review the list with you, discuss our rationale, and decide which firms to contact together.  

Depending on schedules, the total time can be from a week to a month. Availablity and scheduling have a significant impact on the law firm lateral hiring timeline.

Interviews

1 month to 2 months + 

We reach out to the agreed firms and schedule conversations or “interviews.” 

Typically, you should count on meeting with a hiring partner, managing partner, and leaders of your practice group at a minimum. 

More common is a series of meetings with other partners from the practice group you hope to join. Sometimes other business professionals, such as administrative and marketing, will also want to meet with a lateral partner candidate too.  

Generally, these interviews take a few weeks because everyone has a full schedule. You may also have meetings with multiple firms, so your availability will be tight. Interviewing is the longest part of the process, and we recommend dedicating as much time as possible to ensure you make the right choice.  

In addition to the interviews, most firms may want you to fill out a Lateral Partner Questionnaire, some will accept our Business Plan, but many insist on the questionnaire. The questionnaire is generally quick and easy after completing your Business Plan, and we will help you, but it is another potential source of delay.  

The more responsive you can be and the more open you can keep your schedule, the faster this part of the process will go. 

The Final Step: Closing the Deal

1 week to 3 weeks 

Once you and a firm agree to move forward, the final step is negotiating terms. Negotiations can be quick and easy or drag on depending on how aligned you and the firm are. 

We can help you streamline the negotiation by clarifying what is reasonable and what isn’t. We can negotiate on your behalf or support you through the negotiation, whatever works for you.  

And that is the law firm lateral hiring timeline

Adding these times up gives us a law firm lateral hiring timeline anywhere from 2 months to 5 months or more. 

It can go faster, but we recommend taking your time to get it right.  

Common sources of delay in the law firm lateral hiring timeline. 

If you wonder why the law firming hiring timelines is so long, there are four common areas of delay. Some of which you can influence, some you can’t.  

Common delay number 1: You, the candidate, cause delays by not promptly scheduling meetings or returning important information

Everybody understands that everybody is busy. You can’t be a rainmaking lawyer and also have unrestricted availability. 

However, the faster you get meetings on the calendar, the better. Delays in scheduling are very common, and they are frustrating to everyone. (These delays can also come from the law firm side, but you can’t control those). 

Also, if they want a Lateral Partner Questionnaire filled out, you should return this to them as quickly as possible. Delays in returning the questionnaire delay their review of the questionnaire, which delays scheduling, and… you get the picture. 

The more responsive you are, the faster and easier this process will run. 

Common delay number 2: the law firm is handling other recruiting activities

Although your lateral partner recruiting process is foremost on your mind, the firms you speak with will have other processes to manage.

They may be talking to multiple partner candidates, all of whom must meet with the same people. Or they may go through other business development activities such as acquisitions or mergers that absorb significant management time and attention. 

Generally, these issues will not affect your chances of receiving an offer (especially if your practice will add to the firm’s bottom line). But, firm management only has so much available time so, this will lengthen your process.  

You are busy and have clients as well, but the more flexible you can be, the faster this process will be.  

Common delay number 3: the time of year 

Time of year can be a factor in the law firm lateral hiring timeline. The last month of the firm’s fiscal year means everyone is busy closing the books. The summer holiday season stretches already packed schedules. 

Even associate hiring can impact the lateral partner timeline. The managers you may need to meet could be busy with on-campus interviewing, managing a summer associate program, or onboarding new associates.  

None of these are related to you and won’t affect the outcome, but they can impact the timeline. This is one reason we recommend getting started early and taking your time.  

Common delay number 4: finding the exact right perfect fit firm takes time. 

Changing firms is a very important choice for you. 

You should be deliberate and careful in making it so that you can make the best decision possible – you want to be happy in your new firm. So don’t rush it. Give yourself time and take the time to evaluate, think, and find the right firm. 

This is your process

The simple truth is that the law firm lateral partner hiring timeline is long and deliberate. Your flexibility and responsiveness can help it along, but you also want to be purposeful in making your decisions. 

Be patient – once you find your perfect fit, the whole process will have been worth the time.

Ready to get started? 

If you are ready to get started, let’s talk. Even if you aren’t sure what you want to do, half an hour on the phone can help you clarify your opportunities and next steps.  

We work for you. The law firms pay us, but your happiness is what we work for. Get started here, and I look forward to learning more about you, your practice, and your plans.