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Understanding the Keys to Lateral Success

So you’re working with a new firm! Congratulations!

While there’s a lot to enjoy in this exciting new chapter of your career, you need to be prepared for some the specific challenges you will face as a lateral attorney.

We have the great joy of placing many attorneys in their dream roles in a legal market that is embracing lateral hires. But the truth is that many candidates end up looking for another firm after only a few years because they were not prepared for the transition. As exciting as a lateral move is, remember that it affects your career. Here are some steps that you should take to ensure you are prepared to succeed in your new placement:

Understand what the firm’s concerns about lateral hires are.

Generally, most of the firms looking for a lateral hire are deciding:

  • Whether they can sell this candidate to their clients?
  • Can the candidate complete the work the way the firm wants it to be completed?
  • Will the candidate fit in?
  • Is the candidate difficult to manage?
  • Does the candidate genuinely want to build their career here, or is this a pit stop to another gig?

Realistically evaluate how you could have made your old firm work out to be more successful and fulfilling.

Before starting at the new firm, take the time to reflect on what you could have done to improve the situation at your old job. What were your bad habits or past mistakes that soured a relationship? What have you done to ensure they will not be repeated? How would you handle it differently with what you know now?

If you could speak candidly with senior lawyers at your old firm about your job performance, do so. That way, you walk into your new firm with the right awareness and focus to strengthen your weaknesses

Evaluate whether you are “on track”. When you switch firms, it may slow your track to partnership. This might mean an extra year or two; maybe even “getting in line” behind a number of other senior associates who have been there for many more years than you. You do not usually carry former relationships and friendships from your old job to the new one, so build those relationships with the awareness of your “track.”

Take initiative to incorporate into the new firm’s culture.

Odds are, as a lateral hire, the firm does little to incorporate you into its culture. That will be your job: you need to make the effort to integrate once you come aboard. The quicker you integrate, the better.

Begin with being proactive at introducing yourself to the lawyers and staff at your new firm. Learn what the different lawyers do and show them how you can help their practice. Get to know the personal backgrounds of the firm’s leaders, particularly in your practice area. Soon you’ll figure out where the natural alliances are and how hierarchy works. Model yourself after successful associates, and get the inside scoop from them.

It almost feels like you have to start all over again—but remember that you are going into this seasoned, with the knowledge of an experienced attorney. Make sure that you factor this into your planning and discuss this with your recruiter during the process so that you position yourself to succeed once you’ve been placed.

IMAGE by Shahid Abdullah from Pixabay

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