Fall is the perfect time to make a lateral move

With the summer law school recruiting season over, firms turn their attention to lateral associate recruiting before the holiday season.
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It’s October and we all know that brings cooler air, changing leaves, Halloween candy, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes. But what many Biglaw associates do not know, is that it also brings one of the best windows in which to make a lateral move.

In August and September firm recruiting resources are focused largely on filling their summer classes, but by fall that has mostly been sorted out and the recruiting personnel and lawyers can both focus on lateral associate hiring again. Firms are looking ahead to their needs in the new year and may have immediate needs now that the summer lull is over. Because many associates don’t even think about making any lateral moves until they’ve collected their bonuses, there are also fewer applicants for the positions that are open. Firms at this time of year will either be prepared to pay a full bonus if they want an associate to start this calendar year or they will make the hire with the expectation that the associate starts in the new year, so no one is expecting you to walk away from any bonuses you’ve earned.

Get your documents ready

So, what should you do to take advantage of the opportunity? First, make sure you have your documents in order. You’ll definitely need a resume and law school transcript, and it’s a good idea to have an updated deal sheet/matters list too. A good legal recruiter can help you edit your resume, but if doing it yourself, it should generally be one-page, list your experience above your education, and explain generally what sorts of matters you work on and your role in those matters. Law firms usually want to see law school transcripts, even for candidates who are pretty far removed from their law school days. Every firm differs on how much scrutiny they give those transcripts, but they’ll want to see them regardless. And deal sheets/matters lists can be very helpful to show both how busy you are and what sorts of matters you have been working on. Some firms will require them up front and others may ask for them later in the process, so it’s smart planning to have one at the ready.

Understand the market

You should also speak to a trusted recruiter about the state of the market. While the lateral hiring environment has not been as robust this year as in 2021 and 2022, things have started to pick up recently and there are more opportunities than one might assume. A good recruiter will listen to what you are looking for in a lateral move and present you with opportunities that align with your goals, and they will likely know of a few opportunities that aren’t necessarily out to the broader market. A scrupulous recruiter will also not send your materials to any firms without your express permission. Be sure to vet a recruiter before you work with them — ask them about similar candidates they have worked with in the past and what firms they place people into most often. You can certainly approach the market on your own or through friends, but you’ll be missing out on the knowledge and experience of a recruiter, and you’ll have to spend a significant amount of time managing your lateral process yourself. Recruiters are paid by the firms for successful placements, so working with a recruiter comes at no cost to the candidate, and large firms tend not to care whether a candidate has a recruiter’s fee attached to their candidacy.

If you’re considering making a lateral move in the new year, you should see if approaching the market this fall could make sense for you. This will allow you to essentially have two bites at the apple — you’ll be a candidate for positions open now and, if nothing pans out, you’ll still be able to approach new opportunities when associates start giving notice in January and new positions open. Talk to a knowledgeable recruiter who can advise you if this approach would make sense for your career!

This article was written by Matt Moody, Senior Consultant in Marsden’s New York office, and was originally published on Above the Law in October 2023.