The legal industry continues to experience significant changes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including to lateral attorney hiring. Now is an especially difficult time for practicing attorneys who were ready to make a leap from their firms, want to transition into a different practice elsewhere, or realize there is no path to partnership at their current firms. What is a lateral candidate to do now that coronavirus has thrown a wrench into their job hunt? And—on the flip side—should certain lawyers actually be pursuing new opportunities?
Last week, we shared insights from four legal recruiters on how the lateral market has changed, what practice areas remain in demand, and what lateral candidates can do to set themselves apart. In this second installment of our lateral hiring Q&A, these four recruiting experts weigh in on the lateral attorney job search in light of COVID-19—including whether candidates should pursue opportunities in this climate and how they should navigate video interviews—as well as steps their own search firms are taking to adapt to this new normal.
Are there any instances in which you recommend a lateral candidate wait to pursue a new job? Are there any instances in which you recommend they jump on new opportunities now?
Matt Moody, Managing Director with Empire Search Partners: Frankly, I would recommend most associates not begin a broad search at this time. If there is an in-house or law firm opportunity of interest, it makes sense to submit your resume. But this is not a great time to take a broad look at the market or to try to pivot into a new practice area. That said, from our discussions with our law firm clients—who remain busy across a number of practice areas—we are optimistic that this will change sooner rather than later.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is a good time to talk to a knowledgeable recruiter to understand just what is happening across the market. And if your firm might not do well in the challenging months ahead, it could make sense to approach the market now before there are widespread layoffs/furloughs. Also, as I already mentioned, I would certainly recommend interested bankruptcy and restructuring associates test the waters in the coming weeks.
Scott Hodes, Managing Principal at Lateral Link: This is obviously a very interesting time for lateral movement, to say the least. That is not to say it is necessarily good or bad, but this virus has affected everyone in different ways. I think it is very important, first and foremost, that candidates and recruiters alike remain very sensitive to how individuals and firms may have had their own personal experiences with this crisis. There is such a powerful human element to all of this that sometimes get lost in the business context, and nothing should come before that.
In a time of such great uncertainty, there are going to be instances where waiting it out makes sense, and—of course—instances where an opportunity presents itself. For the individual candidate, this is a good time to take a long pause, reflect on their current situation, and consider their long-term goals. I do not think the idea of a lateral move has to necessarily be placed on hold if there is an attractive opportunity or one that meets their needs. Firms are going to remain open, this too shall pass, and career goals can be slightly delayed if appropriate but should not be completely abandoned.
On one hand, I would caution candidates not to be too reactive based on how their firm has navigated these waters because it is happening so fast and furious, and—of course—this is not something anybody could have planned for. However, I would also advise candidates to pay attention to how their firms have treated them when it matters most.
Sean Burke, Founding Partner of Whistler Partners, and Becca Blank, Managing Director at Whistler Partners: For most associates with general experience or those in capital markets/private equity practices, stay put. But for BigLaw junior associates who have done only a bit of litigation or bank finance and want to stay busy and get more hands-on challenging work, consider shifting to bankruptcy. There are a lot of overlaps with litigation and M&A, depending on whether the practice is focused on debtor or creditor representation. The skills will be transferable. They’re great practices willing to retool driven juniors.
Alternatively, if you find yourself getting pulled into bankruptcy or litigation and that’s not the trajectory you want for your career, you should keep your eyes open. If a job does open up, you might want to be proactive and at least take the meeting.
Since most interviews at this point will be virtual, do you have any advice on best practices for video interviewing?
Matt Moody: At Empire, we fully prepare our candidates for all of their interviews, whether online or in-person, and I have held preparation calls with several associates [recently] for video interviews. A lot of my advice on virtual interviewing is the same as interviewing in person. You should dress as you would for an in-person interview and treat the preparation and discussions as you would any other interview. Make sure you have the correct software and are familiar with its use before your interview. Prop your camera at eye level, and try not to fidget or look away from the camera often. Job interviews are all about making a connection, and that can be a challenge when not meeting in person. Try not to just sit back and answer questions but to turn the interview into a more fluid conversation. And don’t let your dog or roommate walk into the room!
Scott Hodes: Fortunately, as technology has played a larger part in recruiting over the past few years, most candidates, recruiters, and law firms have had extensive experience with preparing for and conducting video interviews. So in that sense, this is not a brand new concept to most. Although video interviews are at times awkward because of things like slight time delays, our advice to candidates remains largely the same: Treat the interview as if it were in person, look the part, make sure there are no distractions, and understand that although this is not ideal compared to in-person interviews, it is the temporary “new normal.” Unlike the past, where a video interview may be considered a first round or a screening interview, many hiring decisions are going to be made from these interviews without a second, in-person chance at a first impression, so how both candidates and firms perform on video is going to be crucial.
Sean Burke and Becca Blank: Double check how your outfit looks on your computer camera! We can’t tell you how many times we’ve done a video call with someone and the stripes on their shirt are super distracting and wiggly because the computer camera doesn’t pick them up correctly. Otherwise, we highly recommend still wearing what you would wear to an in-person interview. It’s nice to still show you’re putting in the effort, even if from home. Each video interview platform is different (Skype, Zoom, etc.), so we definitely recommend downloading whichever one the firm will be using in advance and testing it out. The last thing you want is to be fumbling around at the beginning of your interview. Do everything you can to get as much video interview practice as possible—you want to come across confident and comfortable. You can start by doing video meetings (virtual happy hour!) with friends if you’re not doing them already. We also do video prep meetings with our candidates!
These are stressful times, so no judgment if you are drinking a glass of wine at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, but maybe don’t leave the bottle in the background. And definitely put any pets in the bedroom. Their cuteness won’t get you the job.
What is your firm doing to adapt to potential recruiting changes due to COVID-19?
Matt Moody: Like most everyone these days, we’re all working remotely and have been for a few weeks. We check in with each other frequently by email, phone, and Zoom meetings to share what we have all learned about the market. We’re also in constant contact with associates, counsel, partners, law firm recruiting coordinators, and in-house lawyers and hiring managers to better understand the changing market and to counsel them on how to adjust. We have a robust in-house platform and anticipate continuing to make placements on that front in the coming weeks and months. And we have insight and connections to top firms that are likely to do more hiring in a down economy than other recruiting agencies.
No one has experienced events like those of the last few weeks or those we are likely to see in the coming months. However, many of my colleagues at Empire Search Partners have been active in the legal recruiting industry since before the last recession, and others of us were practicing attorneys at that time. We have first-hand experience navigating lean economic climates in the legal industry and will continue to advise our candidates through these challenging times.
Scott Hodes: Three words: communication, communication, and communication. Everyone is working together to try and figure this all out, and it is imperative that we communicate with our candidates and our law firm contacts. Everyone has questions: Firms want to know if candidates are still planning a lateral move and candidates want to know if firms are still hiring. While we as recruiters do not profess to have all the answers as to what will happen in the coming weeks or months, we are doing everything we can to gather intel on what both sides of recruiting equation are doing, and—where appropriate—offer our guidance. And naturally, we are speaking to our own recruiters on a daily basis to make sure we are there for them and offering as much assistance as we can.
Although we want to remain optimistic, we are also taking a realistic approach and recognizing that there could be some difficult times ahead, and—frankly—people are scared. We are doing our best to be available; educate ourselves, our candidates, and our clients on what we are hearing; and balance that uncertainty and trepidation with the hope and knowledge that the industry has been through tough times before and those who properly adapt will persevere.
Sean Burke and Becca Blank: We’re following market trends very closely. We’re fortunate to have some of the most knowledgeable folks in the legal hiring game on our team (shout out to Dan Mummery, former Gibson Dunn hiring partner!), many of whom were around for the 2008 hiring dip. We’re studying those trends as well as following what’s currently going on. Also, Zoom meetings! It’s the next best thing to meeting candidates and clients in person.
About The Legal Recruiting Experts
Matt Moody is a Managing Director with Empire Search Partners in New York. Matt advises attorneys in a variety of practice areas as they consider lateral moves that will further their professional goals. He places lawyers of all levels into leading law firms and in-house positions across the country. Before joining Empire Search Partners, Matt served as the Senior Law Editor at Vault and as a litigation associate at two Vault100 firms. Matt can be reached at email@example.com or 212-688-9200.
Scott Hodes is a Managing Principal at Lateral Link, which is the highest-ranking position at the company. Scott is responsible for and oversees associate and partner level attorney placements at AmLaw 200 firms and top regional firms in the Southeast, including Florida, Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham and all other mid-markets in the Southeast region
Scott joined Lateral Link in 2009 as its Director of Florida. In June 2010, Scott was named the Southeast Director for Lateral Link, and Atlanta and Charlotte became Scott’s primary territories, along with Florida. In May of 2012, Scott was named Managing Director of the Southeast, and soon thereafter he was promoted to Principal.
Prior to joining Lateral Link, Scott was a practicing attorney for seven years. He began practicing for a litigation firm in Boca Raton, Florida, and soon thereafter joined a boutique four-person estate planning firm in Boca Raton. Three years later, Scott was a name partner of the firm, and by the time Scott left the firm in 2009, the firm had grown to eighteen people.
Scott was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Livingston, New Jersey. He attended the University of Florida, where he graduated cum laude, and the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He also holds an LL.M. in Estate Planning from the University of Miami.
You can reach Scott at 561.503.4817.
Sean Burke is the Founding Partner of Whistler Partners, and Becca Blank is Managing Director at Whistler. They focus on the changing legal landscape known as Tech Convergence. Fashion, Entertainment, Advertising, TV/Movies/Streaming, Real Estate, Financial Services are all being transferred by technology and startups. The future is here, and you need a recruiter who understands the new legal marketplace. Whether it is DTC "direct to Consumer", entertainment tech, adtech, streaming, apps/mobile, proptech, or fintech, Whistler Partners is the expert on this convergence. You can reach Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org and Becca at email@example.com.
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