Career Navigation: What Laterals Need to Know

By Jodi Standke

The climate for lateral movement is hot. There are many articles and resources available to assist law firms with effective lateral attraction, interviewing, hiring and integration. One outcome is the explosion of lateral partner recruiting brochures, all designed to present and promote a positive picture of a law firm to attract a partner with a solid book of business or to assist the headhunter in their recruiting conversations. Most of these documents are well-produced and provide a fair amount of useful information, including differentiators. Or, are those differentiators so easy to spot?

Let’s talk about the other side, the lateral lawyer. What is important for the individual to obtain and consider when exploring a right career move? There are several essential pieces of information that laterals will want to know if they want to make the best decision – an informed decision. This information is often not in recruiting brochures.

What’s in it For Me?

It is a lot of work to move your practice. It is not worth moving your practice for a step forward in your career. It is worth moving your practice for a leap forward in your career. This starts with knowing what you want for yourself and how you want to develop your practice. It also means answering specific questions about your practice … for example:

  1. What do my clients need that I cannot provide right now? i.e., do they have tax needs that your current firm cannot support? Would you be able to add value to your relationship and expand the work you are doing with your client if you could answer their legal tax questions too?
  2. Would you be able to expand your practice if you were able to serve more or be an expert in a certain geographic region?
  3. How involved in leadership do you want to be? Do you want to have more management experience? Will you have leadership and management opportunities in your current firm?

Once you know what you are looking for, then you know what information you are seeking when interviewing with potential firms. Ask for specifics on how a move to a particular firm’s platform will benefit your practice. How would your addition strengthen their adjoining practices and expand current client opportunities – yours and theirs? You are looking for a situation where 1 + 1 = 3; an equation where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

What Is the Record With Regard to Laterals?
In other words, has the firm hired laterals successfully in the past? Is this firm attracting top talent? What are their examples? How has their past hiring of laterals increased the performance of the lateral and the firm? Are laterals in key leadership roles within the firm? Many firms have hired laterals and then seen attrition within 24 months. Many firms do not do any empirical analysis of how new laterals have performed. Testimonials by laterals is certainly one way to gather information and if firms have other data points, that is more real information for you to use in your decision making.

Is There a Lateral Integration Program?
Many firms tout cross-selling as a benefit, but too many leave the mechanics to chance, often to the detriment of a new lateral. Moving clients is a precarious business. In today’s climate of cautious clients and institutionalized business, extracting entrenched clients can be a delicate exercise. And, just plain creates an increased workload for you while you are building new peer relationships. If the firm has a proven process for timing, technology and messaging to transition clients, the easier it will make your (and your clients) transition. Having a defined and dependable process for integration, joint marketing and business planning will make your success greater, faster.

What Is the Health of the Firm?
Health is often translated to mean financially sound. And, you should wonder and ask about the firm’s financial footing. Additional questions to determine health are: What is their succession plan? How do they work with retiring partners? Do they have a strategic direction on where the firm is going? How many people in the firm actually know that direction? How forward thinking are they? Are they meeting the needs of the changing market (professional development support, alternative fees/billing, flexible work schedules and varied compensation options)?

In this climate of firm mergers, change and growth, the demand for high-performing laterals is high. The opportunity for a lateral to accelerate their practice with a leap forward in their career is high. The onus is on the lateral to identify what they want and need and then interview for it. Interviewing is not a one-way street. It is a lot of work to move and the right platform can be life changing. Ask questions. Transparency builds trust and is always a strong way to begin a new relationship.


Jodi Standke is CEO of Talon Performance Group, Inc., a legal talent management firm that provides cost-effective legal recruiting for culture fit, as well as career navigation to lawyers. As a trusted strategic partner, Jodi helps law firms and legal departments develop a cohesive approach to selection, development and retention of talent, directly impacting the bottom line which is vital to their success. Hundreds of clients across the country rely on Jodi’s expertise. WBENC and NALSC certified. Contact Jodi Standke at jstandke@talonperformancegroup.com or at (612) 827-5165.