A former candidate of mine recently decided to go on a couple of interviews for positions that had opened up in his practice area. The firm we placed him with several years ago was a terrific choice for him initially. But as his seniority level rose, the size of the practice group and the unclear path to partnership led him to roll the dice and explore his options. He contacted me for suggestions the factors that should influence his decision making process at this stage of his career.
The biggest difference in the present is that any move he makes now will be his last stop before partnership consideration. That makes for an entirely different equation than the one we applied when he was a mid-level. For those of you that are senior associates, lateral partners or in between, here are some suggestions and questions you can use as a filter in your search process:
First, run the most thorough interview process you can, seeing several firms if possible. If you have the luxury of multiple opportunities, educating yourself on what is out there will add to your peace of mind whatever you ultimately conclude. It is in everyone’s best interests for you to make the most informed decision you can. Be forthright with prospective firms about your timeline and desire to find the best fit for your next professional home. When you put it in those terms, there generally is no problem.
Once you are ready to make a decision about an offer or offer(s) ask yourself the following and if you are working with a good recruiter, you already have the answers to the majority of these questions. Revisiting them once your options are more clearly defined can be very useful in making a decision:
How many partners have been made in the practice group in the last few years? (If the group is new or small that should be taken into consideration.)
Who else will be up for partner at the same time as you in any offices where they have attorneys practicing in the same specialty as you?
Historically, what is the track record over all of lateral attorneys being made partner or moving from non-equity to shareholder status?
How does your practice area fit into the strategic plans of the firm– and what is the focus in general of the firm’s practice? (Is your practice important to the firm? Why?)
What is the billing rate at the firm(s) you are considering? How will it impact your ability to build a book of business or originate work? What about any existing matters that you hope or plan to port?
How will your firm be positioned following the Presidential election? Depending on your practice area, the strengths of your firm, and the outcome of the election, this could have bearing.
When and upon what basis will you be considered for partnership?
What are the hour’s expectations for partners? How are partners evaluated? Is there a buy in?
Is credit given for client origination only, new matters from existing clients, servicing a client, and/or cross selling between groups?
What sort of debt does the firm have?
How are decisions made? Are you comfortable with the management structure of the firm?
Does your firm have a culture and a vision that is consistent with how you view yourself as a professional?
What are the firm’s goals and reasons for wanting to expand an area? Do they make sense and support the strategic plans of the firm?
The final step is to return for a visit to the firm or firm(s) you are most impressed with, offer in hand. Ask to speak with one or two laterals that came in with a similar set of circumstances or seniority level to you (the practice area is not critical for this purpose). Listen carefully to how things have gone for them and ask any questions you held back during the interview process. Look around you—are people smiling? Do they seem to be enjoying themselves? Can you see yourself here?
Things can look very different once a firm has asked you to join them and there is no longer the pressure of being in the hot seat. The post-offer visit can be critical in making the best choice. I am sure some of my colleagues may have additions to this quick list that they will add, but I hope this is useful.
Have a safe Memorial Day Weekend.