Ten Tips for Partners Considering a Lateral Move
Making a move to a new practice should be a rare occurrence for a quality law firm partner. Here are 10 tips that can assist you to make a move that sticks for the long term.
1. Culture is King.
If you are thinking long term, there’s little point taking a role where the cultural values of the firm and your own differ widely. Whether it relates to sharing clients, team structures, billable hours or more, make sure that before and during the interview process you consider the culture of the firm. It is the number one reason why moves don’t work out at senior levels. Consider it, examine it, investigate it or even test it.
2. Watch the Numbers
I’d assert that the modern day partner, more so than ever, lives and dies on the numbers. Likewise, a successful move to another firm is usually predicated by having a good numeric fit. You need to know what is expected for each tier of equity (or salary etc) and what numbers you will bring or will generate. Don’t overstate them but don’t be overly conservative. Consider them in light of your best accurate estimate and compare them to what the target firm generates. If you haven’t been provided with that information, seek it.
3. Client/Rate Fit
If you accept my assertion that the modern day partner lives or dies on their numbers then a key element to that is the numeric fit of your fees. Extrapolating out my rationale on cultural fit, it’s important that the type of clients you service are also a good fit for a target firm, not just in the short term, but also considering the long term business plan of the practice.
4. Be Open-minded
Partners are paid to advise, lead and build practices, so taking advice and considering options outside of those that appeal most obviously does not always come naturally. However, advisors such as recruiters who apply “whole of market” recruitment strategies see things from very different perspectives than individual partners, who can be swayed by one-off dealings, rumours and past perspectives. If you are working with a good recruiter see what they can do to open your mind to more options. Test them if need be, but hear what they have to say, and more importantly, why they are saying it.
5. Headhunters Versus Recruiters
A disclosure first – we are recruiters, not head-hunters. While a call from a head-hunter might be flattering, and might offer a very interesting option in itself, we would suggest that as well as considering any option put to you by a head-hunter you should also consider what else is out there for you at the same time. In a majority of cases where we have calls from a partner that has been head-hunted we are able to offer a variety of other options which are as or more attractive than the initial head-hunting call. Obviously a head-hunter who is retained to find someone for a specific role cannot put other options to you until their client has rejected you. A good recruiter will look at multiple options for you from your perspective.
6. Timing is Everything
If you do decide to make a move, and commence approaching firms, allocate enough of your time and your resources to making the move work. Countless offers have never eventuated because the partner approaching the firm lost focus during the process when client or employment demands caused them to delay or postpone it. If you are on the market then there may be substantial demands on your time, including preparing business plans, attending multiple meetings and taking numerous calls. Have strategies in place to deal with this and plan ahead.
7. Take Acceptable Risk
Lawyers tend to be risk adverse. Any move will have elements of risk and potential reward. How you asses that risk and allocate it is key, with long term benefit outweighing short term financial gain. Think long term, assess options holistically and consider both risk and reward. While there might be safety in numbers there is usually not much money in safety!
8. Don’t be Blinded by Brand
While understanding a firm, its culture and its brand will all be important when considering potential targets, don’t be blinded by brand alone. Many of the firms with the strongest brands struggle in a tight market and there are a number of firms challenging them on rate, service delivery and profit. We suggest not getting bogged down too heavily in superficial elements and focusing on the core of what will make a move work for you. While the top-tier may sound attractive, the key determinant ought to be what is the right fit for you and your practice, rather than which firm sounds the most impressive. Moves motivated by brand are often short-lived.
9. Get Some Advice
While you might be used to making significant decisions for clients and for your practice, seek the assistance of a seasoned recruiter who knows this space. Self-serving I know, but why go it alone when for no cost you can: get advice on your CV and supporting documents, have someone talk to you about multiple options and work with you on preparing any business plans/client lists, get insights into the personalities and strengths/weaknesses of various firms, get advice and assistance negotiating offers, and to have someone dealing with questions you want to know the answers to, but don’t want to ask personally.
10. Don’t Fear the Unknown
For anyone used to working in the same place for a long time, as most partners do, making a move itself can be daunting, particularly when large sums of money are at stake. The reality, however, is that most partner moves, when undertaken thoughtfully and strategically, are positive at both ends. All that is needed is appropriate investigation, strategy and timing. Oh, and the right recruiter of course.