Associates are seeing an unprecedented surge in lateral hiring. We’re in the midst of an escalated job market with intense demand for associate hires at firms focused on private equity, M&A, capital markets and finance. Many AMLAW 200 firms have their doors wide open to top performing associates.
This hiring wave reflects a major, nationwide market shift at major US law firms. While hiring was strong from 2017 through early 2019, the job market began to slow down for lateral associate hires by the end of 2019. When the pandemic hit, new opportunities were nearly non-existent and predominantly limited to restructuring/bankruptcy practices. Associates had the difficult experience of being “repurposed” and thrown into a new practice area where the tumultuous economy was generating work.
Now, associates can breathe easier and put that unsettling feeling of no deal flow behind them. We’re experiencing of one of the hottest associate hiring markets in years. Associate moves in the 10 most active legal markets in the country were all up by double digits in January and February compared with the four-year average, according to competitive intelligence firm Decipher. Even those associates that are fairly content at their current firms are now considering what options are available elsewhere that may lead to compensation bumps, better advancement opportunities or improved work-life balance.
Since exploring the market is very much a two-way process between our clients and candidates, knowing each person’s core motivations and identifying what areas of dissatisfaction exist in the current relationship are key. We can then leverage that nuanced understanding of each firm’s unique dynamics and exclusive intel to position associates for long-term career growth and better job satisfaction. This work is done in a highly confidential manner.
There are five core candidate profiles we typically see:
1. Balance Seekers What they need: These are attorneys billing 2500+ hours per year for firms that expect them to be available 24/7, and they’re looking for greater work-life balance. How we help: We guide the candidates to select top firms we regularly work with that are more focused on talent retention by managing workflow and lower billable hour expectations.
2. Optimizers What they need: We call these the “grass might be greener elsewhere” group. These attorneys are fairly content at their current practice but wonder if they’d be happier elsewhere. They care most about finding a superior firm culture. How we help: Local insights are key to matching a candidate’s culture needs with the right firm. For example, depending on preference, we guide some associates towards firms that offer diverse cross-office experience alongside a variety of different partners and others towards firms that pair associates with one primary partner who offers robust mentorship. Knowing the firms well based on past placements helps us know where each candidate might fit best.
3. Leveling Up What they need: Candidates looking to upgrade either their compensation or the prestige of their firm are lucky to have many choices right now. Not only are the AMLAW 200 firms hiring but some are offering hefty signing bonuses and the potential for significant year-end bonuses on top of generous salaries. How we help: We know which firms are offering sign on bonuses and in what amounts as well as who will and will not provide full year-end bonuses despite starting months after the fiscal year, helping candidates secure the most lucrative possible offer.
4. On the Move What they need: These associates are looking to switch geographic locations, and their numbers have increased thanks to the pandemic. Some are seeking lower costs of living outside expensive urban centers or moving to be closer to family. How we help: Since our practice is nationwide, we have access to a breadth of opportunities along with the local insights to guide associates to the right firm.
5. Departing a Mismatch What they need: Associates and their firm are sometimes not a match. In these cases, associates find themselves with a provided timeline to make a move. Since time is of the essence, speed to market is a top priority. Luckily, right now, timing is good for those in this category vs. those that faced this same situation just six months ago. How we help: It’s unfortunate when poor fit forces a change but it can be for the best. The departing associate can be a superstar elsewhere. We take the time to understand the current challenges and identify where the associate will thrive based on our market knowledge and past placements.
Regardless of whether associates ultimately make the leap to a new firm, today’s high volume of mobility makes it a unique moment to reflect on their level of current job satisfaction and consider the future. At the end of the day, firms being busy is a positive for everyone .
Do you have questions about the lateral hiring market? Leave them in the comments or email Nicole Kennedy at email@example.com.