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September 2, 2020

When Is the Right Time to Make a Lateral Move?

The days of an Attorney joining a firm out of law school, working hard to climb the ladder to make Partner and staying for 40 years are a thing of the past. Eventually, all attorneys are faced with the decision to make a job change, and the vast majority will make at least one lateral move in their career.

What is driving this modern trend of career mobility in law practices? Mostly, and not surprisingly, it is job dissatisfaction. In fact, a 2018 survey of 11,000 members of the State Bar of Texas revealed that only 13.5% of those surveyed were satisfied with their careers.  Another survey by the American Bar Association determined that 65% of practicing attorneys were considering a job change in the next two years, a number that has been consistent for at least the last decade.

Chances are, if you are an attorney, you will find yourself contemplating a change at some point, but how do you determine when the time is right? The answer will differ for each individual situation and stage of your career, but there are common themes that have been expressed to us by the candidates we have worked with and they may resonate with your situation.

Associate Attorneys

Attorneys rarely know what they are getting into as they leave Law School and enter their first practice. Over the course of the first few years of working, many attorneys realize the position they originally accepted is not going to be their long-term career. The most common reasons for Associate Attorneys to make a change are:

  • Bad cultural fit with current firm – not respected or valued
  • Work life balance is not achievable – unreasonable billing expectations or work hours
  • Desire for more compensation – not enough pay for effort put into the job

One major challenge for an Associate Attorney in assessing whether to make a lateral move is that there is a finite window when they are most marketable. Law firms hiring associates typically expect candidates to be well trained and able to work independently, but not so experienced that the salary expectations and higher bill rates are not aligned with work product.

In practical terms, Associates are most attractive when they have between three and six years of experience. After six years, the shine starts to come off the penny and it becomes increasingly difficult to make a career advancing change.

Partner Level Attorneys

So, you have put in the hours, honed your skills, gained your own clients, built your book of business – ultimately achieving Partner. Now what? Hopefully, your firm is a great cultural fit and supplies all the tools and support needed to keep your clients happy and you can continue to grow your practice. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Partners tell us some of the top reasons for making a lateral move are:

  • Practice growth has stalled – The Firm’s platform no longer fits individual practice
  • Firm Financials do not fit client needs – No rate flexibility and/or high overhead
  • Improve Branding / Perception – Wanting a more prestigious or larger firm

Whatever the specific reason, Partners typically will look to make a career change because their book of business is being adversely affected at their current firm. The challenge for Partners is that to be viable to the market, their clients need to be willing to move with them and give their new firm some reasonable expectation of new annual revenue. In the past, that revenue number typically needed to be around $1 million per year, and that is still the standard among most Top 200 Big Law firms.

Most partners do not have that amount of portable business and may feel stuck where they are. The good news is that smaller mid-sized firms are open to considering books of business as low as $300,000 and can provide great regional branding and attractive platforms to grow your practice.

Southwest Legal Search is Here to Help

Most partners do not have that amount of portable business and may feel Whether you are actively looking for a new opportunity or just interested in how you may be valued in today’s market, Southwest Legal Search is available to assist. All communication is confidential, and there is no cost to Attorneys that choose to work with us. Please reach out today to schedule a consultation and we can help determine if it is the right time for you make a lateral move.