Actress Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. Photo: Wikipedia

Would you marry someone you’ve only dated online without checking out what he’s like in the flesh? Sure, he’s a charmer on your computer screen, whispering all those sweet nothings and promising you happiness and security. And of course, you’ve checked him out so you know he comes from good stock. It all sounds wonderful, but is that enough information to make a lifelong commitment?

You wouldn’t get hitched that way, but that’s how some lawyers will land at their next job if the coronavirus persists, predict recruiters. Laterals will likely sign on with law firms that they’ve never set foot in and whose partners they’ve never met.

Call it marriage, Covid-19 style!

“If candidates know the firm—and some partners—and vice versa, I can see a partner telling me that they are comfortable accepting an offer based on video-conference meetings,” says Gloria Sandrino, the global head for partner and group recruiting at Lateral Link, who calls it “the new normal!”

That might seem risky, but that’s today’s drill. What’s more, only a select group—namely, partners with business or expertise—can play this privilege game of roulette.

“The lateral market is definitely down, though it’s kind of a sliding scale,” says Jeffrey Lowe, a managing partner at Major Lindsey & Africa. “Picture an x/y graph on which you chart the time in progress against the amount of book of business and the level of importance of the practice area,” says Lowe. “The more along you are in all those categories, the more you’re likely to progress.”

In other words, if you’re not already in the process, your lateral ship probably has sailed with the coronavirus lockdown. “For candidates who were far along with the interview process pre-COVID-19, law firms and candidates have kept the process moving along,” says Sandrino, adding that retained, exclusive and targeted searches are on hold.

That closing window also means that candidates are no longer sitting on their offers, according to recruiters. (Yes, recruiters have reason to encourage candidates to accept offers.) “If they’ve been dawdling, they now realize what’s available now might not be there tomorrow,” says Lowe. “People are accepting quickly.”

Candidates whose practice area is in demand at the moment might have more leverage. Just a few months ago, private equity seemed to be the rage. No longer.

As you’d expect, the hotties are now bankruptcy and labor and employment lawyers. Other sought-after practices include cybersecurity and privacy, litigation, white-collar, health care and government work related to the nearly $2 trillion bailout.

Stuart TenHoor, who specializes in placing food and drug administration lawyers, says his area is also super busy. “I placed FDA lawyers—13 last year and four so far this year—and there is still demand for them,” says TenHoor. “Life sciences clients are clamoring for answers, and FDA lawyers are burning the midnight oil.”

In any case, you better learn to dazzle people on video. Not everyone is comfortable with virtual interviews but that’s the program. “Virtual interviews are not all bad,” says TenHoor. “Think strategically.” Among his advice: Prepare bullet points on expertise, accomplishments and what makes you unique. And don’t forget what your drama teacher always told you: Project! “Be confident and vocal because only about 22% of you is coming through [on video],” says TenHoor, adding that “95% of you comes through in person.”

But even if you’re a natural on Zoom, BlueJeans or whatever, don’t count on a quick hitch. “The interviews in the partner recruiting space are taking longer than usual,” says Sandrino. “Partners, both on the law firm and candidate side, are really taking the time to get to know each other.” Sandrino adds that firm leaders are much more thoughtful about lateral hiring than they were during the last recession. “There seems to be a real strategy for the practice and the skill set, as opposed to just the portables. A silver lining in these awful times!”

In other words, everyone is circling around, checking each other out. But commitment? Nah.  Just like internet dating.

 

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist.