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It is a truth universally held that a partner in possession of a good book of business is in need of a better firm. If you are a partner considering such a lateral move, then you are probably focused on the boost a new firm could offer your practice and on cultural fit. These are certainly important factors in making a successful move. However, our review of the 2,353 partners who moved between Am Law 100 firms in 2010 through 2012 suggests some more prosaic factors matter too.

When should you make the move? Well, fall seems to be the time of year to start exploring seriously so that you can move early in the new year. As the columns in Fig. 1 show, the volume of lateral partner moves declines through the year from 35 percent of a year’s moves happening in the first quarter to 15 percent in the fourth quarter.

This is perhaps not surprising. What is surprising though is that the success rate of laterals (as indicated by staying longer at the new firm) declines through the year, with an almost 15-percentage point difference in the 5-year retention rate (i.e. percent of laterals still at their new firm five years after the move) for movers between the first half of the year and the fourth quarter, (see the line in Fig. 1). A likely explanation for this falloff has to do with the nature of the move—voluntary vs. involuntary. Involuntary moves are very common—in a recent Altman Weil survey over 70 percent of firms reported using involuntary departures to improve profitability. Our hypothesis is that voluntary moves are biased to earlier in the year—shortly after partners receive their profit share for the prior year. For partners who move involuntarily, our hypothesis is that they are often informed of their separation early in the year as part of the compensation discussion and that it takes some months for them to find a new position—hence they are inclined to leave later in the year. Involuntary departs are generally substantively excellent lawyers but lacking in the full complement of business development and related soft skills required of a successful partner in an elite modern law firm. The need for such skills doesn’t dissipate, nor is it more easily met, by moving firms. Hence, it’s not altogether surprising to see later-in-the-year movers, with a higher portion of involuntarily-departed partners, enjoy less success at their new firms.

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