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In the past year there has been accelerated lateral movement of partners across the nation. Firms like Bryan Cave, Holland & Knight, Piper Rudnick, Hogan & Hartson and Greenberg Traurig have each hired 50 to 60 partners so far this year. Some via mergers and others, like Greenberg Traurig, mainly through aggressive individual partner recruiting. It’s been interesting to see that some firms that in the past did not consider laterals are now aggressively seeking them.

Yet, there is still a great hesitance on the part of many to make a career move. A large number of those who say they are open to change are still reluctant to take advantage of the opportunities available.

The question is, “Are partner’s concerns about making a lateral move based on facts?

Some partners convince themselves that they will not make more money at another firm. They may say, “I’m happy where I am, I’m paid well and I like how I am treated.” Certainly if an individual has convinced himself that he is paid very well it’s hard to tell him or her otherwise. But the fact is, there are many firms where a valued partner would be treated well and in fact paid far better for their expertise, hard work and portable business.

Some may point to firm loyalty as a reason not to move. Loyalty cuts both ways. If a partner is being paid less than a competitor firm would pay, what does that say about the loyalty of the firm one has been at for years? It may sound odd to hear this, but many partners are frankly underpaid, intentionally or not.

Some say, “I would only consider an in-house opportunity.” There is the belief that in-house positions offer more interesting work and easier hours. In some cases that is true but in many cases it simply is not. Many in-house attorneys work excessive hours and can find themselves doing work that is not very satisfying.

What is also generally true is that in-house positions simply pay far less than most law firm partner positions. In addition, competition for such positions is overwhelming because of the economy and a flood of applicants without partner qualifications. Also, the fact is companies are laying people off all the time and often without notice. That’s not likely to happen to a partner at a major firm.

A common concern among some partner candidates is that their clients won’t move with the partner. This may be a reason for concern. If the partner did not originate the client base or does not have a positive rapport, these may be reasons for concern, but not always.

Any partner who has performed his services well and has maintained his client relationships in a quality fashion should have minor difficulty bringing his clients with him or her as long as the client sees the partner’s new firm to be one with strong expertise and a quality reputation.

The partner’s communication skills and an expertise in relationship building are critical. The partner will be able to minimize lateral move concerns through open and forthright communication with current and prospective clients.

The fact is, in this current legal market there are, more often than not, far more valid reasons to move than to stay. The following is a summary of good reasons to move and good reasons not to.

Valid Reasons To Make a Move

Higher Compensation – For those committed to increasing their income, making a lateral move will bring a serious increase in income.

Better Support Staff – One benefit of making a lateral move is the quality of associates and support staff. Not all firms have the very best people.

Better Cross-Selling Opportunities – One reason partners move is because they see more business development opportunities at other firms from internal networking.

Joining a Firm With More Rainmakers – There is certainly a benefit to being in a firm where there are many partners bringing in a lot of business income. There are firms that rely too heavily on too few rainmakers.

Joining a Firm With Better Clientele – Obviously different firms attract clients with different Fortune 1000 rankings. This does affect business development opportunities, profits and profits-per-partner calculations.

Attaining More Responsibilities – There are some partner candidates who seek a change in responsibilities. Change is often a good thing and people do get bored with the same routine. Some upwardly mobile partners like the idea of taking on a greater challenge that can also lead to more financial compensation.

An Opportunity With Less Responsibilities – There are some late in their career or some burnt out by too many responsibilities who seek a somewhat less burdensome or complicated opportunity.

Valid Reasons To Stay Put

One’s Own Questionable Clients – If one’s clients are on shaky ground or you simply have uncertain relationships with them, it is obvious that you would be wise not to pursue a lateral move since losing any clients would put your new position in jeopardy.

A Potential Employer With Questionable Clients – Certainly no one would move to a new firm where the clients don’t pay well, are not performing well in their industries or who are difficult to deal with.

Low Billing Rate – For the most part, major firms are not taking on partners whose billing rate is incompatible with theirs. Most major firms only hire partners with hourly billing rates from $400 to $625 per billable hour.

Insufficient Portable Business – Clearly, few major law firms will consider a partner candidate with less than $750,000 in verifiable portable business. Generally, when a candidate has the minimum they are expected to provide strong evidence to show that the numbers will increase.

For those partners who are contemplating making a lateral move, now is a good time to do it. New partners are very much in demand, firms are offering the largest compensation packages in history and the chances of finding desirable cross-selling opportunities and other special conditions has never been better. You deserve the best right now and so does your family.

An important tip is to find and work with a highly connected and quality partner recruiter who is committed to being your advocate. Never work with a recruiter whose concerns are to merely service his or her law firm clients. This is a candidate’s market and you want to work with someone who will go to bat for you all the way.

Keiser, the director of Search International in Marlton, is a specialist in global partner placement and law firm practice development.

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