So You Want (Need?) To Make A Lateral Career Move . . .

Making a legal lateral career move

Of the bazillion and one things no one told you before going to law school (and during, and no doubt after), one of the most surprising is that the legal profession is inherently unstable for all but a select few.  I’ll mention some of the reasons later but for now it suffices to say that there are two that every lawyer should take into account.  One is that the supply and demand of legal services follows the broader trends in the economy.   In a down economy, you might get hit where you eat:  Your practice area.  The second is that without ongoing professional development, you won’t advance along the partnership track (or be pegged to go in-house, but I digress and save that for another blog post.  Stay tuned).

So, you find out as an associate in a law firm – which is relatively late in the game – that how and where the work you’re doing is originated, who you get it from and how much you’re given, all have a direct bearing on your future marketability as a lawyer.    Add to that the goings on in the economy at large, and you inevitably find yourself thinking more than you ever imagined about your career and how to manage it, including whether you should make a lateral career move.

Step 1:  Look Around and Evaluate: Is It Time To Move?

Let’s say you’ve accepted the fact that Partner A is never going to relinquish control of the Sacred Cow Clients of the Firm for at least the next 30 years.  Or that Partner B is never going to let you run a deal on your own.  Or that Partner C is going keep you managing discovery and document reviews on large cases until a more junior associate can take your place at a lower salary.   Or that Partner D is never going to invite you to (insert any male dominated sport or entertainment venue where he entertains clients and then doles out choice work assignments here).  Or that Partner E loves your law and motion work – as long as she makes all the appearances and argues all the motions.  Or that Partner F just doesn’t like you and, well, no one in the firm including you can figure out why.   Or – and this is probably the most common reason –  that Big Firm life is great and you are well appreciated, but (choose one:  the unexpected downturn; the sudden partner/practice group departure (without you); the loss of a huge client; the weak fiscal condition of the firm) have made it clear that the steady supply of billable hours is or will be tapering.   Or finally, you simply desire to move to a more geographically desirable location.

Staying put seems less appealing than leaving.  It’s time for a lateral career move.  Where do you start?  Read on, and fear not.

Step 2:  You Think It Might Be Time –  Now Determine Timing

As you by now have surmised, it’s very likely that a confluence of factors, not just one, will prompt you to move on.   It’s important to be honest with yourself, and determine your reason for moving, and how it may or may not affect your career.   Are you reacting to a change in circumstances?   Are you merely being observant and proactively putting feelers out?  Are you (or will you be) running from something?  Or is it (or will it be) time to run to something better?   If the former, timing will be critical and a hasty move could cause a lifetime of regret.  If the latter, you have the luxury of time, but opportunities come when they come.  How will you be sure you won’t miss out on the next and possibly last career opportunity?

In either case, you still must make sure that the inherent instability of the profession we just discussed makes as little an impact on the stability of your career as possible.   This doesn’t sound easy because it’s not.  You’re going to need help.

Step 3:  Find A Reputable Recruiter

The one thing you probably know about recruiters is not to trust them because, well, that’s what everyone inside the firm is telling you.  Admittedly, this is partially true.  Not everyone engaged in the business of recruitment and placement is ethical, and even among those who are, not all are competent or at least minimally effective.

Ethics, competence and efficacy come from top-notch training, experience and company-provided resources, coupled with your own intuitive sense that the person handling your search is – above all – knowledgeable and trustworthy.

The bottom line is this:  If you take your career seriously you need to find a recruiter that will do the same.  Period.  This is your life we are talking about.  If you take a recruiter’s call, you can bet that recruiter has checked your bio and researched you online.  You should do the same.  You want to find someone whose background includes training and experience with a reputable company, and someone who hasn’t changed companies every year, a sure sign the recruiter was not effective and therefore not successful in his chosen profession.

Step 4:  Choose Only The Best

Special Counsel is the world leader in legal staffing and employs a national team of Attorney Search Directors (legal recruiters), all of whom know that your career requires the ethics, experience and the capacity to be an effective career service professional and an aggressive advocate on your behalf.   Our reputation precedes us; Special Counsel is a trusted brand because it has built, over many years, a reputation for being trustworthy.

In conclusion, you may not have known that you chose an unstable profession.  On the other hand, now you know there’s a company that understands and can help you, every step along the way.

There’s nothing more valuable in the legal industry than expertise.

Explore our white papers for insights into the trends shaping our industry, the challenges that you will need to overcome and the best practices you will need to stay ahead. View our white papers here.


Ed Shioyazono is a Regional Search Director for the Northeastern US at Special Counsel. He is responsible for hiring, training and coaching attorney recruiters in Special Counsel’s direct-hire business model and institutionalizing best practices, with a view to ethics and collaborative selling across markets locally and geographically. Ed currently resides in Manhattan, and travels regularly to Philadelphia, Boston, Washington DC and other emerging markets. To learn more, contact Ed at

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