Being Proactive In Your Lateral Integration

by | March 10, 2009

Dear SJL:

I am a fourth year attorney and have been with my firm since my second year summer. I worked part-time with my firm during my third year of law school. I am well liked by the partners and administration, actively involved in the firm's recruiting efforts and have some great friendships with my colleagues. That said, my department is struggling - at least one partner has left and work is sporadic. I decided to explore other opportunities in the market and was recruited by a firm where the partners are impressive and where I think I will grow as an attorney. I think I want to accept the offer but this decision to leave my firm where I am so comfortable is difficult. I don't know what to expect when I make a lateral move - I have friends who switched firms and they didn't find that their new firms took an interest in their integration and they never felt that bond to their second firm that they felt for their first. I know that I shouldn't prioritize comfort over professional development but, if I do make the move, how can I be sure I will be integrated fully in order to guarantee myself a long, successful and satisfying career with my new firm?

Lateral Integration Amateur

Dear Integration Amateur:


Ahh, the comforts of "home" make it difficult to leave the nest. I cannot tell you how often I speak with attorneys who know that they need to make a move for the sake of their professional development (or personal satisfaction)but stifle that need because they don't want to place themselves outside their comfort zone. Like you, they summered at their firm or at least began there upon graduation, and as such, they know all the partners (and, more to the point, the PERSONALITIES of the partners), they have stored up goodwill, they are close with the recruiting department, they even know the quickest shortcut to the bathroom on their floor! But, with comfort comes complacency and the one thing you can't be complacent about is your career. It is not easy to leave such comforts behind in favor of the unknown so I applaud you for seriously considering taking the plunge.

Obviously, it is the in the best interest of a firm that recruits laterals to make every effort to integrate those laterals successfully - they have spent time and money on recruiting those attorneys and they are going to spend more time and money training, mentoring and developing those same attorneys once they arrive. I wish I could say that firms all realize this and that, therefore, your integrations will be seamless and require no effort on your part. Unfortunately, flying in the face of logic, many firms mistakenly minimize their lateral integration efforts - so many consider lunch with associates on the first day and the assignment of a mentor to constitute a full lateral integration program. Hopefully, the firm you are considering places much more of an emphasis on lateral integration but, if we are assuming the bare minimum (and even if we are not), it is incumbent upon you to make the effort to integrate yourself and not wait for someone to do it for you. But that doesn't mean such efforts have to be difficult. During my time as a lateral recruiting coordinator at my former law firm, I witnessed many lateral attorneys take their integration processes into their own hands and do so successfully. There are certain fundamental ideas you must adhere to from your first day on and, though they aren't complicated, they require effort and they will make the difference:

Reconnect With Your Interviewers.

I know it seems like you will be starting over at a firm where you know no one but, in fact, there are at least a handful or more of your "fan club" waiting for you to begin. I'm referring to the litany of partners and associates you interviewed or met with during the process - the same partners and associates who, upon meeting you, determined that you were someone they wanted to call a colleague, someone they believed could do the work successfully and, beyond that, had a personality they wanted to be around. Far from walking into a group of strangers, you are joining a group that likes and believes in you. Makes it all a little less daunting when you think about it that way, doesn't it? Don't wait for them to come find you; go find them. Reconnect. Let them know you are looking forward to working with them. Shoot the proverbial… uhm… breeze and start the relationships and friendships on week one.

Make The Effort To Know Your Recruiting Department.

It seems easy to form a relationship with your recruiting department when you begin working at your firm as a summer or first year associate. A law firm's recruiting contacts tend to be very involved in the initial development of attorneys at the firm; they coordinate events held in honor of the summer and first year associates, are constantly polling junior associates for feedback and looking to get associates involved in recruiting efforts from day one. You mentioned that you are very involved in recruiting for your firm and that it's something you enjoy and have found to be a great social outlet. You shouldn't give that up because you switch firms. If you are friendly and proactive with respect to the recruiting department, you can find yourself in a situation very similar to your current one, even if you didn't begin with the firm.

If you don't already know all of the members of your recruiting staff, head down to their offices and introduce yourself. Make sure they are aware of your willingness to be an interviewer - they may think you are not ready or willing to promote the firm when, in fact, you are one of their greatest tools because you thoughtfully chose to accept the firm's offer as a lateral candidate. Remind them that with respect to both alums of your law school and other lateral associates, they should keep you in mind. Besides integrating yourself into the recruiting efforts of the firm, you will be aligning yourself with the individuals who have their fingers on the pulse of what is happening at the firm - the recruiting department. Recruiting will definitely help you feel more invested and involved in your experience and tenure at the firm.

You Are Responsible For Finding Your New Mentor.

Okay, let's be clear - at law firms, there are "mentors" and there are "MENTORS." The former refers to that senior associate or partner that the firm assigns to you as part of their formal mentoring program and the latter is that attorney that you believe can show you the ropes, pay attention to your professional development, and serve as a role model during your tenure as an attorney. It is somewhat rare that the mentor assigned to you proves to be the bona fide MENTOR in your career. For that reason, you cannot passively accept your assigned mentor and call it a day - you need to be evaluating from day one who is going to most successfully fulfill that MENTOR role for you. Perhaps it is an attorney you interviewed with. Maybe it is a partner whose matter you are assigned to the first week. Or it could be a partner that gets talked about in the halls as a legend but who you have not met yet. The point is to be proactive in identifying your MENTOR and when you have, you must not sit idle until the opportunity comes to interact with this attorney. Make it happen - having a MENTOR, the right MENTOR, makes all the difference to your career and you cannot assume that relationship will develop without effort on your part.

Put Yourself Out There.

I understand that you are used to a firm where "everybody knows your name." People probably come to you to have questions answered, to vent, to share exciting/happy/sad/annoying news - it is an environment of friends and it is easy. When you make a lateral move, it becomes your responsibility to create that environment for yourself at your new firm. Again, it's basic - introduce yourself to the attorneys on your floor. Say hello when you pass colleagues in the hallway. If there is a department or firm event, attend. It may not come naturally to you to go through such motions but it will jumpstart the relationships that will make your tenure with the firm both successful and gratifying.

Say Yes To Assignments.

Though formal lateral integration programs are a necessity, it is true that there is no better way to integrate than getting to work with your colleagues. Come to work ready to hit the ground running. Let your colleagues know that you are available and have time to take on work (particularly the ones you are excited to work with and learn from), accept all assignments that come your way. Show enthusiasm for your work, ask questions, and it will not be long before you see your place in the department fully develop.

These suggestions probably sound obvious and simple - that's the point. These are things that you have control over that will guide your experience as a lateral. And check your comparisons at the door - whether it be out loud or silently, there is no benefit to constantly comparing your new firm to your old. All it will do is make it more difficult for you to wholeheartedly embrace this new and exciting professional experience on which you have chosen to embark. I wish you all the best and believe you are going to have an immediately successful relationship with your new firm if you take your integration into your own hands. Best of luck!

Nicole

NICOLE L. DONNELLEY, ESQ.

Nicole Donnelly is a Managing Director at SJL Attorney Search. Nicole spent more than six years in a law firm setting, first as a practicing attorney and most recently as the Lateral Recruiting Coordinator with Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP ("Schulte"), where she was instrumental in establishing a "liaison" program for lateral attorneys joining Schulte in order to facilitate their integration into the firm. As a search consultant, Nicole is able to leverage her deep understanding of associate life with her genuine interest in professional development and counseling. Nicole focuses on the placement of associate-level attorneys at law firms in the New York metropolitan area.



ABOUT SJL ATTORNEY SEARCH, LLC

Founded in 2003, SJL Attorney Search, LLC is a legal recruitment firm that works closely with law firms and other sophisticated legal employers to identify, recruit and ultimately hire qualified attorneys. Our consultants have successfully placed associates, partners and corporate counsel of varying rank in all practice areas of law, including mergers and acquisitions, capital markets, global finance, real estate, bankruptcy, tax, labor and employment, ERISA, intellectual property and litigation. In an industry that has a reputation for sharp elbows and cutting corners, we hold fast to our core values of integrity, quality, team work and accountability.

We understand the immense value of relationships and so, we have assembled a team of proven relationship builders in the firm. In addition to a research staff that supports our firm's goal to cull and store the best market information, SJL Attorney Search is proud that our consultants include former practicing attorneys with tremendous academic credentials, a former senior law firm administrator, a former law school professor and a former senior marketing executive. Please visit www.sjlsearch.com to learn more about our consultants and our firm.


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