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Although it’s called a “lateral” move, when an associate switches law firms, it is usually a step up, sometimes a step down and, occasionally, a misstep. As someone who has changed firms a few times and is responsible for lateral associate orientation, I know that not all lateral experiences are successful. Here are 12 steps to help laterals at the places they will go. 1. Be yourself. Don’t wait until you’re settled at the new firm to reveal your true personality. Sure, you can tone it down a bit for the interview, but you should not be afraid to be yourself. How will you know if you really fit in if you are putting on an act? In addition to acting naturally, spend some time assessing what will make you happy. Decide what you are looking for in a new firm and seek out those opportunities. Would you really be happy at a larger or smaller firm? Is another practice area right for you? Once you have started to look, decide if you have the time to devote to a search or if you need the help of a recruiter. 2. Make the right match. They say that breaking up is hard to do. Although it can be, nothing is worse than when you end up at the wrong place. It is hard to know what a firm is really like before you get there, but try to learn everything you can. You would perform due diligence on an opposing party before your client’s deal or investigate the other side’s witnesses before a big trial, so do your homework before committing to a new firm. Learn everything you can about the firm and the lawyers with whom you will work. There are online chat rooms and law firm surveys, but often the best source is an inside perspective from someone in your class and practice area at the prospective firm. Before you say yes, get to meet as many people as you can. Ask for another set of interviews if you need to and keep your eyes and ears open as you go from office to office. Does it seem busy? Hectic? Exciting? Stressful? Are people smiling back when you pass them? Find out about the experiences of other laterals and ask to meet with them. 3. Get the deal straight. Once you have found what seems to be the right place, get the deal straight. Again, using the same care as you would if representing a client, make sure that you are in agreement regarding all of the terms of your hire and that you understand firm policy. You will know what your salary is, but make sure you know when you are eligible for benefits, a vacation, a raise, a bonus and partnership, and whether your hours and bonus will be pro-rated for your first year. Know how much notice you need to give at your current firm and advise the new firm when you will be available. If your new firm is requiring you to take the bar examination because you are not licensed where you will be working, ask when you must take it, whether the examination and review course fees will be paid, what leave is given to study, and whether it is paid leave and counts toward your vacation. Also, know when you will first be evaluated and by whom. Ask about firm policy regarding billing requirements, expectations about your business development and bar association memberships. Once you have a meeting of the minds, get it confirmed in writing. 4. Get settled. After you discover your new firm and agree on all terms, you are ready to get settled and get to work. Unpack and set up your new office as soon as possible. If you haven’t yet memorized your new phone and fax numbers, tape them to your telephone so you have them handy. You know what tools you need, so make sure you have them, whether it is a Lexis or Westlaw password, copies of rule books or the tax code, a Dictaphone or a stack of legal pads or Post-its. Get yourself a good reading light and personalize your office with a photograph or a plant. The reality is that as a lateral, you get whatever office is empty, usually because someone found it too hot, too cold, too noisy and/or too near or too far from the bathroom. Likely, it is filled with whatever furniture was available. Bide your time until you are in a position to ask for matching guest chairs or a better location. 5. Get oriented. In the meantime, get oriented. If your firm does not have a formal orientation for lateral associates, make your own. Ask where the nearest bathroom and coffee stations are. Figure out how to use equipment and don’t skip any training offered, especially the computer training. Master the voicemail system and copier, and learn where supplies are kept. Also make sure you receive phone lists and are added to e-mail lists. If you are at a big firm, get a map and learn your way around. When you receive the policy manual, take the time to review it and learn the firm’s policies and procedures. In addition, find out about the firm and its history. You already studied the Web site during the interview process, now focus on the intranet, firm brochures and newsletters. 6. Get to know the firm. Get to know the people in your immediate area and try to match faces with names, using nameplates outside of workstations and offices or your intranet or firm directory. Jim Murray, the former managing partner at my firm, told me that he knew how successful people would be by how the staff reacted to them. Start with your secretary by letting him or her know what your expectations are regarding drafts, filing, telephone and follow-ups. Chances are you are not the only person your secretary is supporting, so be fair to all involved. Get to know others by participating in firm events and introducing yourself in the halls and at the water cooler. Read the daily newsletters and new case reports and e-mails and take an interest in what is happening around the firm. 7. Let them get to know you. In addition to getting to know your colleagues, let them get to know you. Introduce yourself to a few new people each week and ask other associates to lunch. Encourage participation in any organizations you are active in and accept invitations to join others. Again, don’t be afraid to be yourself and do venture out of your office. 8. Find your niche. If you weren’t hired for a specific practice area, which is unusual in these days of subgroups and specialization, you should try to find your niche. Otherwise, you may find yourself up for grabs for the first time since you were a first-year. As the new kid in the hall, you will find many partners who want to check you out to see what you can do — and what you can do for them. You may end up on a list for spot assignments and special projects. Try to get off that list by finding your own sources of work. Ask if there is an assigning partner and check in with him or her. Follow up after assignments and ask for more work from partners. Figure out who is busy and what they are working on, and volunteer to help. When you hear or read about cases that sound interesting, ask to work on them. 9. Find a mentor. Everyone needs a mentor, probably more than one. At my firm, we assign an associate “connection” to act as a big brother/sister for the first few months to provide introductions, answer questions and offer support to laterals. We then allow associates to choose a partner or senior associate mentor and train all participants. If you are assigned a mentor, take full advantage of the relationship. If not, or if it is not a good match, realize you can find your own mentors along the way. 10. Make a friend. Making friends at a new firm can be tough. If there is someone you relate to who seems successful and who is nice, reach out. Your transition will be easier if you have someone to answer your questions or who helps decode firm culture. Participate in firm events, whether it is a departmental meeting, a summer associate party, a happy hour or a bar association event. When you meet other associates, ask about what they do at the firm and inquire about their lives in and out of the office. 11. Learn about resources. Every firm has lifesavers. Get to know them, whether they are night word processors, messengers, court liaisons or paralegals. Seek them out and make nice with them. Don’t wait until you have an emergency research assignment to meet the library staff. Introduce yourself to whoever is in charge of supplies and know who you call when your computer crashes. A veteran paralegal or secretary can be your best guide to the firm. 12. Make a good impression. Hit the ground running. Always act professionally, be efficient, meet your deadlines, give firm handshakes, work diligently, proofread twice, turn in your timesheets daily and polish your work. Greet people in the hallways and organize your thoughts before speaking, particularly in meetings. Remember, first impressions stick, so be sure to make good ones. And, as Dr. Seuss wrote: “OH! THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!/You’ll be on your way up!/You’ll be seeing great sights!/You’ll join the high fliers/who soar to high heights./You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed./You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead./Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best./Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. “Except when you don’t/because, sometimes, you won’t./And will you succeed?/Yes! You will, indeed! “(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”

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