You know what they say…the grass is always greener. 

And, in fact, that is the idea for lateral partners: we find greener grass. 

Unless there isn’t any. 

Moving to a firm with a better culture, strategy, compensation model, practice area, or location (or all of the above!) that will create a better fit for your day-to-day satisfaction and long-term professional objectives. 

In short, your exact right perfect fit law firm is the greener grass that is out there. 

The challenge is that you must be intentional about your move. A lateral move is not a magic wand to solve all your problems, and if you aren’t thoughtful and specific about how you approach and navigate the process, you may find the greener grass on the other side of the hill is an illusion. 

Bottom line: there are times when a lateral move just WON’T make you happier. In fact, it could make things worse. 

In this post, I’ll explore circumstances that could indicate that just making a lateral move alone may not be the answer to your problems and how to think about a lateral move to ensure you CAN actually be happier at your new firm. 

If you don’t know what you want, you won’t find it. 

Simply moving to a different firm can’t make you happier unless you figure out what was making you unhappy at the first firm and how to improve it. 

The key is to do your pre-work. Take the time to reflect on your experiences and pinpoint the aspects that hindered your happiness and potential. 

Was it an issue related to staffing and workload, compensation, flexibility, strategy, and expertise, or misalignment with the firm’s values and culture? Or something else entirely? 

You can develop a clearer vision of what you truly want by gaining clarity on these issues. The more specific and intentional you can be, the better. 

Once you know what you want, your current firm is the first place to look. Once you clearly articulate your needs, you may be able to change your situation at your current firm.  

Remember, the goal is not just to change firms but to find an environment where you can thrive and reach your full potential. This checklist is an excellent place to start.

Once you’ve created your checklist, I recommend creating a business plan—this tool will help you frame your needs in terms of the leverage you have to attain those needs.  

If it’s time to move, seek organizations that align with your values, offer professional development and growth opportunities, and foster the kind of culture that helps you thrive. 

We can help you find and vet these firms. 

If you don’t do the work to understand them, then you may end up in a worse situation. 

As I have recently written on this blog, it’s important to remember that the lateral partner interview is not one-sided—you are also interviewing the firm. 

That means you aren’t just trying to sell yourself to them, but also making sure they fit you. Think of this as being similar to doing discovery, a mutual exchange of information. 

You should be asking your questions as part of the interview, but you should also do your own vetting of the firm. 

After all, all firms say the same things: They have a collegial environment, they hunt in packs, they give excellent client service, and so forth. 

It’s up to you to probe deeper into those claims. 

  • What does “hunting in packs” really mean for this particular firm?
  • They say they’re great at cross-marketing. Do they have stats to back that up? 
  • Are they properly incentivizing cross-selling with compensation?

Firms will tell you how collegial and friendly they are until they’re blue in the face, but if you ask a partner to go to a pitch meeting with you today, will they? What if you ask them tomorrow and next week? Every day for three months? What if you ask them to fly to California with you? 

If the firm isn’t tracking and incentivizing cross-selling, whether through compensation, split origination credit, a bonus pool, or some other means, it’s unlikely that partner will get on the plane with you or introduce you to their clients…no matter how “collegial and friendly” they may be! 

So if this is important, ask questions and get to know their culture. 

Consider more than one firm. 

Comparing firms is very useful – it helps you see the nuances. Even if you know where you want to go, understanding how that firm compares is an important step. 

I recently heard a story from a partner whose lateral move was a phenomenal failure. 

He joined a new firm hoping it would make his administrative burden lighter but found they didn’t have the right personnel, the right billing software, or the proper process for conflict checks. So it took too long every time he tried to bring in work.

I asked him what other firms he had met with before choosing. 

His answer? “I didn’t meet with any other firms.” 

Had he met with two or three other firms and had a comparison, he might have realized the first firm wasn’t the right fit for him.  

Finally, do you like law? 

If you don’t like the law, if you don’t like arguing, speaking, writing, negotiating, or clients (it happens), then maybe law isn’t for you.

If you realize that you dislike practicing law, no move will help. Instead, find something that works for you. There are other careers and creative ways to use your legal education that you may find more satisfying. 

If you like law and don’t like your firm, a move can help. If you don’t like the law… a move won’t help. So be honest. 

Ready to Take Control of Your Lateral Move?

Ultimately, the key to a successful move centers on two-fold specificity, related both to your end of the equation (what hasn’t worked for you in the past, and how can you improve those things through your move) and your prospective new firm (whether they actually offer what you need to succeed).

Of course, from crafting your checklist and developing your business plan to surveying the market and evaluating options, the lateral partner process takes work and effort. However, you don’t have to navigate it alone.

If you’re ready to get started, let’s schedule a call. Even a half hour on the phone can help you clarify your wants, needs, dealbreakers, and next steps.