Are you considering a lateral move to a new law firm?

When you make a lateral partner move, you do it because you want to make changes for yourself: there is something wrong at your current firm, and you want to improve your situation. This means building on what’s right and fixing what’s wrong.  

You will likely have numerous potential firms to evaluate, each boasting distinct cultures, practice areas, and strategic visions. 

The challenge lies in identifying the right fit for you, the firm that best caters to your needs. 

Where do you begin? 

The first step is to get clear about what exactly your needs ARE. 

It sounds obvious when I put it like that, but you’d be surprised how many candidates I talk to don’t have a clear and well-defined understanding of what they want from a new firm. 

Your needs, though, are essential to the right lateral partner move. This move is about you. 

  • Are you able to fully serve your clients? 
  • Do you dislike the people you work with? 
  • Don’t get to spend enough time with your family? 
  • Lack the autonomy to work from home at your discretion? 
  • You have a $5 million book of business, but you count your hours?

A checklist can help you identify your priorities and match them with the offering of prospective firms, empowering you to make a more informed choice. 

In my experience, those priorities tend to fall into one of three buckets:

  1. Client-centric considerations, 
  2. Firm-related factors, and 
  3. Work-life balance. 

In this blog post, I’ll explore each category in more detail and provide suggestions to add to your “Exact Right Perfect Fit Firm” checklist. 

Client-Centric Considerations

Client-centric factors directly impact the quality of service you can provide to your clients. This category encompasses various aspects that revolve around expertise, flexibility, and reach.

Expertise in Practice Areas

Your clients may require expertise in specific practice areas your current firm doesn’t have. Ensure that the law firm possesses the particular practice areas relevant to your clients’ needs. 

In one case, a candidate needed healthcare transactional experts to support his bankruptcy clients fully. He couldn’t offer his clients a complete service without this expertise, so he lost business.  

Your needs depend on your clients. You may need intellectual property transactions, corporate law, or specialized industries such as ESG or cybersecurity – whatever you need to serve your clients is what you are looking for. 

Flexibility in Rates and Billing

Your clients may require a certain amount of billing flexibility. Some of your clients may need lower rates or different billing structures. This can happen often in emerging markets or when working with startup companies.  

So, consider how best to serve your clients. Flexibility can be anything from flexible fee arrangements, such as flat rates, to alternative billing structures that align with your client’s financial constraints while ensuring the sustainability of your practice.

National/International Reach

In an increasingly interconnected world, clients often require legal representation on a national or global scale. Some firms have this capability; some do not.  

What do your clients need? What jurisdictions do they need to cover? 

This can be everything from having offices throughout the US to having offices worldwide. Identify what your clients need so that you can look for it in the new firm. 

Firm-Related Factors

You want to find the right fit for you – fit is essential to your long-term satisfaction and professional growth. So think about the strategic aspects of the firm, including planning, leadership, and values.

Strategic and Succession Planning

A law firm’s strategic vision, or lack thereof, is a crucial indicator of its commitment to growth and adaptability. So, you will want to assess whether the firm’s long-term plans align with your professional goals. 

What are you looking for in terms of: 

  • Firm growth?
  • Practice areas and industries? 
  • Risk versus stability? 

Succession planning can be an issue, so you should ensure the firm you are going to has a well-defined, transparent succession plan. 

A lack of succession planning can cause issues from not having leadership opportunities all the way to the firm, ultimately failing if the managing partner dies unexpectedly or if all of the more junior partners who have healthy books of business leave because they don’t see enough opportunity at the firm.

Culture Fit and Work Environment

Some partners prefer a collegial atmosphere that promotes collaboration, while others thrive under a more individualistic “eat what you kill” approach. 

Neither culture is necessarily better, but one may be a better fit FOR YOU. Reflect on your preferences and determine what environment best supports your professional growth and well-being.

Compensation and Incentives

Compensation structures can significantly influence your motivation and satisfaction within a firm. 

I often talk to partners who don’t feel appropriately compensated for the business they originate and the hours that they work.  

So identify what should change for you. 

As you go through this, remember that compensation may not be only billable hours and business generation but also other valuable contributions such as mentoring for associates (to support you), pro bono work, cross-selling, and involvement in the firm’s community initiatives. 

Work-Life Balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial for your long-term success, job satisfaction, and overall well-being. But what work-life balance depends on you – not everyone has the same definition: so what do you want?

Autonomy and Flexibility

Consider your preferences regarding flexibility in work arrangements.

Does the firm allow for remote work options, flexible hours, and the ability to strike a healthy work-life balance? 

You may love a traditional office setting with a conference room to gather and hash out the details. Or perhaps you want to work on the beach.

Maybe you need time for family engagements, Little League games, or concerts. You might need time to create a family. You might need a way to escape your family… 

You might want to travel, volunteer, or do something else entirely.  

Whatever your needs, define them. 

Staffing and Workload

Sfaffing often holds partners back: they don’t have enough of it, so they have to do the work themselves. 

Having the right staff to handle your workload is also crucial to autonomy and flexibility.  

So, define what you need to serve your clients and provide you with the autonomy you require, and look for a firm that offers the right resources. 

Crafting Your Checklist

There is an exact right perfect fit firm out there, but it is possible to go too far.  

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing the firm that will truly meet your needs — you should.

You can find the right firm if you need flexibility with rates, a better team, a bigger marketing budget, or a Chicago office.

But a helicopter back and forth from work or a one-day-a-month schedule? 

That’s not going to happen. 

You must keep your expectations aligned with what you can get from a law firm. Then, armed with a better understanding of your priorities, it’s time to create your checklist. Start by prioritizing the factors that resonate most with your professional aspirations and personal values. 

Tailor your checklist to reflect your unique requirements, ensuring it serves as a compass throughout your search for your perfect-fit law firm.

Ready to Get Started?

Choosing the right-fit law firm is a pivotal decision that can shape the trajectory of your legal career. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

That’s why your checklist should be personalized, a reflection of your own unique priorities, needs, and long-term goals. It can take time to reach a final decision, and the process of evaluating firms can be complex — not to mention the process of actually transitioning your practice seamlessly! 

The good news? You don’t have to do it alone. Let’s schedule a call to discuss how I can help.