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To mark our 30th anniversary, we’ve reached into our archives to highlight key events and players who made a difference since we made our debut. A version of the following article appeared in the April 6, 1981, edition…
Five years ago, becoming a lateral-entry partner with an established, prosperous Washington law firm was not an easy achievement. But the politicians, congressional aides, and agency heads who have recently flooded D.C. law firms with r�sum�s are finding that goal much less elusive. Job-seeking lawyers today still face considerable hurdles to lateral partnership, beginning with an exhaustive probing of the job market and ending with extensive negotiation over responsibilities, status, and compensation. Nonetheless, lateral-entry partners are becoming a common phenomenon in this town. Why are the opportunities opening up? First, there are more law offices in Washington than ever before, so job possibilities have increased. Out-of-town firms continue to open D.C. branches at breakneck speed — now about 200 of these branches are in business. More important, the increase in firms has brought about a fierce competitiveness, forcing partnerships to look for senior lawyers who bring in additional clients, add new areas of expertise, and generally enhance a firm’s prestige. In the halcyon days of a more relaxed and self-assured corporate law practice, firms would have grown simply by hiring fresh law school graduates and bringing them up through the associate ranks. Now the firms also seek ready partnership talent outside their offices to keep a leg up on other firms that might lure away lucrative clients. All firms deny that they are interested in rainmaking alone. “Having first-rate lawyers is number one,” asserted Francis Muselman of New York-based Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy’s D.C. office. That firm recently brought in three lateral partners, including former Attorney General Elliot Richardson, Stanley Marcus, a former Commerce Department official, and John Shenefield, a former associate attorney general at the Justice Department. “It’s a happy circumstance that are all so well known, but that really comes in second,” Musselman said. Once the decision is made to bring in a lateral partner is made, a firm must grapple questions of strategy. Some firms that have been interested in business-getting abilities and prestige have found themselves in a bidding war for superstar lawyers. Lynn Coleman of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, formerly general counsel at the Energy Department, is said to have been hotly pursued, bringing a final offer from Skadden of more than $400,000. Some firms are taking their time when it comes to giving lateral partners a share of the firm. Some are being placed on salary for one or two years of start-up time. “I never had a share partnership offered to me right off the bat,” said one heavily recruited D.C. attorney. The salary setting may be due to the inconvenience of allocating shares to a new partner in the middle of the year, but often the practice signifies a trial period during which the new partner can prove his or her worth. “I personally feel the jury has to be out on me for a while,” says Andrew Klein, a recent lateral partner in the D.C. office of Chicago’s Schiff Hardin & Waite. “There are a lot of expectations to be met.” Not all firms are jumping on the bandwagon. Thomas Susman was general counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, but he went to the D.C. office of Ropes & Gray as an associate. “It wasn’t a negotiating point. The firm is 120 years old, and they don’t bring in lateral partners,” Susman said.
Update: In its annual survey of lateral partner movement, our sibling publication, The American Lawyer , tracked more than 2,400 moves. The survey covered the period between Oct. 1, 2006, and Sept. 30, 2007 — and applied only to Am Law 200 firms. D.C. firms were well represented, and in fact, some of the biggest lateral gainers on that survey were Washington stalwarts, including Howrey (35 laterals); Crowell & Moring (27); Venable (27); and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (20). As for Susman’s firm Ropes & Gray? It has apparently gotten over its aversion to lateral partners. In early 2005, for instance, it swallowed IP boutique Fish & Neave — partners and all.

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