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You have made the decision to move from one law firm to another. You have found what you think is the ideal new firm, and have sought and won the job. What can you do to make sure that your lateral move will be as successful as you hope it will be? Begin with a reality check. Law firms are fluid, complex organizations. Often, what is true today will not be true tomorrow. Thus, prepare yourself for the very real possibility that what you thought would be your life at the new firm will actually be quite different. A senior partner or practice team may leave the firm. A major client or matter may also change hands, or evolve in some other way. Be diligent in investigating such potential changes before you get to the new firm, but also be flexible in the event that some unexpected changes occur after you make your move. Open displays of disappointment or frustration that the job is “not what you expected” are not likely to improve your situation. PREPARE YOURSELF Further, prepare for the very real possibility that your new firm will do little to help you adjust to a new culture. Law firms are often quite good at recruitment and technical training, but not so good at integrating lateral associates once they have been hired and oriented. Recognize that you will need to do much of the work of introducing yourself to other lawyers at the firm, learning what they do and showing them how you can be a useful addition to their practice. In effect, the first few months of service at a new law firm constitutes a probationary period, during which you should treat all the more senior lawyers in the firm as you would new clients, to whom you are pitching. Although, from the outside, many law firms look alike, on the inside each firm has a unique history, political system and culture. Learn as much as you can about the firm, from as many competent sources as possible. Read the firm’s recruiting and marketing brochures, its Web site content and commentary on the firm’s practice. Pay attention also to the firm’s client list and major matters. These factors will have a great deal to do with who has power in the firm, and where you should look for work that is of interest to you. Study also the personal histories and characteristics of firm leaders, especially in your practice area. Where are the connections and alliances among senior lawyers? Which lawyers regularly work together? What do the senior lawyers in your practice area look for in choosing junior lawyers for their matters? The answers to these kinds of questions will help you greatly in searching out, and getting, good work. Knowing something about your new bosses and compatriots may also help you avoid making an unfavorable first impression on the sometimes quirky, demanding lawyers in a new firm. FIRST IMPRESSIONS Even though you may have met many of the firm’s lawyers in the interview process, recognize that the first few months at a new firm will be a series of first impressions. Even lawyers who met you during the recruiting process will probably not know the details of your work and capabilities. You will need to show them just how good you are to make a favorable first impression. Work on shifting your status from outsider to reliable team player as quickly as possible. Do not clutter your office with boxes of unused materials from your old job. Move in with pictures, plants and other items that will show that you feel “at home” at your new firm. Go to social functions of every kind, from firm retreats, to group meetings, to cocktail parties. Do not pass up even mundane events, like technical training and recruiting dinners. All of these can be good opportunities for some one-on-one discussions with other lawyers. Be ready, when such opportunities present themselves, to explain briefly what you do and what your aspirations are at the new firm. Listen attentively and ask questions that are designed to show your knowledge and enthusiasm, and to solicit support and involvement from lawyers who may be able to get and give you appropriate work assignments. Make a checklist of such contacts and — for the ones that seem particularly valuable — make it a point to loop back in some way. A phone call or a visit can help cement in another lawyer’s mind the fact that you exist, that you are pleasant and hard-working and that you are interested in working with him or her. If there is a dearth of social functions, create some of your own. Start with junior members of the practice teams on which you are invited to work. Invite them to lunch or for coffee. Getting to know them can help you learn some of the informal rules and relationships of the firm, and may be a stepping stone to dealing with more senior lawyers. Be careful, however, to avoid becoming too closely associated with any one junior lawyer who may be interested in getting you to do his or her scut work. Other junior lawyers, moreover, may have personal problems, or simply want to complain about conditions at the firm. Although you may wish to be sympathetic, do not join a clique of complainers, who can only harm your prospects at a new firm. All things being equal, senior lawyers are likely to choose associates with whom they are familiar. To overcome that tendency, you will need to perform beyond normal expectations, and also make sure that you are perceived as adding value on every project to which you are assigned. Pay attention to the little details that can make you instantly valuable, no matter what your prior experience. Be available and in touch at all times. Come back regularly to senior lawyers, for directions from them, and updates from you. Be super-organized, such that senior lawyers can rely on you for documents, telephone numbers and other details that they would prefer to delegate. At the appropriate time, volunteer for extra service to the firm or your practice group. Many firms involve associates in planning social functions, the summer outing, for example. You may also have the opportunity to help with a presentation to your practice group, or to help a senior lawyer prepare an article or speech. The firm may offer pro bono work that can get you involved with senior lawyers at a sophisticated level and help demonstrate your well-rounded abilities. Make sure, however, that these volunteer activities do not distract you from substantial, billable assignments. The first few months of a new position can require significant effort, to learn the details of the operation of the firm, to introduce yourself to other lawyers, and to jump-start your work on new projects. After a few months, however, you should have a fairly good base of experience on which to take stock of your situation. It is worth comparing the factors that lead you to the new firm, and the realities of what you have found. Often, you may discover “hidden treasures” (interesting lawyers, clients and projects) that you did not anticipate when you started. It may be, however, that despite your best efforts, your progress at the new firm has not been as successful as you have hoped. At this point, having given careful thought and diligent energy to the task, you may need to shift your strategy. Often, discussions with one or more senior lawyers with whom you have become acquainted may help you to become more aware of the “hot” areas of practice and team leaders who are in a position to give you more good work. It may be necessary to concentrate your internal marketing efforts on these areas, and these leaders. You may also need to ratchet down your expectations, taking assignments that are perhaps less interesting, to gain experience and connections that can help you going forward. SUCCESS Eventually, there comes a point in your experience as a lateral when you are largely attuned to the rhythm of your new firm and its practice. You may start to hear questions from junior lawyers, about the firm and its clients, which tell you that they perceive you as an experienced “old hand” at the firm. You may also find senior lawyers assigning you more significant responsibilities, ones well beyond what they are willing to give to someone they do not know and trust. Do not give up on your efforts to learn about, and provide better service to, the firm and its clients; that learning process can last through an entire career. But do stop to congratulate yourself on making a successful lateral move. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City offices of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, and a co-director of the New Associates Group in that office. The views expressed are solely those of the author, and should not be attributed to the author’s firm, or its clients.

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