The lateral interview
Interviews are different when you're being considered for a lateral hire than when you are starting out as a lawyer. The attorneys who interview you expect you to know exactly what you want. They expect you to have significant experience in the area of law you practice, and they expect you to be able to articulate that experience in an enthusiastic and knowledgeable way. And, in order to hire you, the interviewers will have to be convinced that you'll fit into the firm environment and that you are committed to staying with the firm for a long time. "In lateral hiring, most people are looking for someone who practices in a way that's similar to the way they practice," reports Arent Fox partner Rich Gale. "When a client asks a partner for advice, some partners will want their associate to provide an answer in a 20- to 30-page memo and others just want a quick answer in a phone call."
When you move from one law firm job to another, you are coming from a position of strength. It's a good idea to spend time researching the firms with which you interview to determine whether they will really be a good fit for you and your career goals. This is another area for which informational interviews are indispensable. The recruiting partner at the firm is not going to tell you whether the corporate partner who needs an associate is pleasant to work for and whether he has power in the firm. But lawyers do talk about their firms with other lawyers. If you're hooked into the legal community, or know people who are, you can avoid getting yourself into a work situation that will be detrimental to your career. You can instead seek out colleagues and superiors who will make your career pleasant and satisfying.
Looking for legal employment can be a very time-consuming process. Law firm partners and, at larger firms, in-house recruiters receive a tremendous number of resumes. They save themselves time and effort by establishing relationships with specific executive (attorney) recruiters to help facilitate faster, higher quality placements. The firms know which independent recruiters can effectively screen job applicants and learn to trust them to provide good candidates for interviews. This allows the law firm recruiters to take care of entry-level and summer clerk hiring and the partners to focus on the business of the firm.
Working with independent recruiters also offers an advantage for job-seeking attorneys -- anonymity. You don't want to jeopardize your current job with rumors that you're looking for work. A legal recruiter can take your resume and show it to firms on an anonymous, or at least confidential, basis. In working with a legal recruiter, a candidate generally provides a resume, writing sample and transcript to the recruiter, who will interview the lawyer over the phone or in person. The recruiter checks the education, licenses and references of the candidate. The recruiter either markets the candidate's resume to a firm or presents the resume to a law firm in response a request from the firm. The recruiter helps to schedule interviews with the firm, to negotiate the terms of an offer and to facilitate offer/counteroffer matters.
Your law school career office
You were able to use your law school career office to get a job the first time around. Depending on the school you attended, you may still be able to use this office as a resource for a lateral move. Most offices offer job listings in some form or another such as print newsletters or password-protected web sites. Many of these listings come from other alumni who know of job openings elsewhere or who have openings in the entities where they work. Most career planning offices also offer some counseling for graduates, perhaps a one-time phone session to strategize about a job search. A few offices have a full time alumni career services counselor on staff. That's right, a full-time counselor whose only job is to assist alums with their career moves. If your alma mater has someone like this on staff, you should contact them and learn all that they have to teach you.
Last, but certainly not least, is that invaluable network of friends, colleagues and alumni that you used as a first-time job seeker. This can be even more helpful to you as a practicing attorney looking for the best fit for your working life.
It's the rare lawyer who stays with the same firm for the whole of his career. In fact, a recent NALP survey reported that 60 percent of large firm associates changed jobs at least once in the first five years of their practice. Lawyers move for a change of hours, compensation or firm resources. If you are not interested in staying on at your firm because you don't think you'll make partner or don't want to make partner there, you have several options. You can move to a different firm. You can go in-house to one of your clients. Some lawyers with backgrounds in finance can even join an international organization that engages in large transactions.