The stakes are high for partners who make a lateral move. Texas Lawyer research editor Jeanne Graham emailed questions to three partners who left their firms to join new firms in 2012. Michael Dinnin joined the litigation section of Andrews Kurth’s The Woodlands office as a partner in March. Jamie McDole joined the Dallas office of Haynes and Boone in June as an intellectual property litigation partner. R. Brent Clifton, a shareholder in Winstead’s taxation, employee benefits and private business practice group in Dallas, joined the firm in November. Prior to making their lateral moves, Dinnin was a partner in Bracewell & Giuliani in Dallas; McDole was a partner in Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago; and Clifton was a partner in Locke Lord in Dallas.

Texas Lawyer: How/with whom did you begin the conversation about making a lateral move to your new firm?

Michael Dinnin of
Andrews Kurth

Michael Dinnin, partner, Andrews Kurth: My conversations about the possibility of a lateral move were primarily initiated by a couple of Andrews Kurth partners who were friends and former partners of mine at my previous firm. Because they knew both firms well, they were able to compare and contrast the two firms and would regularly encourage me to consider making the move.

Jamie McDole, partner, Haynes and Boone: I delicately started the conversation of a lateral move with my wife and children. Once my family blessed the decision as well as a move out of Chicago, I contacted friends and acquaintances to evaluate the legal market across the country and the top firms in select major cities, including Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Palo Alto. My family and I narrowed our search to Dallas, and a friend recommended a Dallas-based legal recruiter to assist in my search.

R. Brent Clifton of
Winstead in Dallas

R. Brent Clifton, shareholder, Winstead: Julie Sassenrath [Winstead shareholder in Dallas] initiated conversations based upon our friendship developed through ABA Tax Section meetings. Tom Helfand [shareholder in Dallas and chairman of the firm's lateral integration committee] joined when discussions became more serious.

TL: What information did the firm ask you to provide?

Dinnin: Andrews Kurth had a basic template, which requested information on my experience, historical financial performance and client information. The process was seamless.

McDole: Haynes and Boone provided a detailed lateral hire questionnaire requesting specific information about portable clients, contacts, and financials from previous representations, and sought information regarding my expectations in joining a new firm. After I completed the questionnaire, I had detailed one-on-one discussions with the firm’s financial partner and the head of the litigation department, among others, regarding my client relationships, contacts in the industry and expectations.

Clifton: Three-year history of compensation, working/billing attorney time/collections and client/adverse list for conflict purposes.

TL: What information did you request from the firm?

Dinnin: While I had general questions about the leadership and compensation at Andrews Kurth, I was also particularly interested in how the firm viewed and managed the offices in Dallas and The Woodlands, which were the offices from which I expected to be working.

Jamie McDole of
Haynes and Boone

McDole: I requested a wide range of information from Haynes and Boone regarding its financial stability, projections, debt (or lack thereof), compensation, culture, diversity, associate retention rate, and long-term plans. I also asked detailed questions regarding how I fit into the firm’s short- and long-term plans, and what unique features I possessed over other candidates which would allow me to succeed at the firm.

Clifton: Firm financials and compensation history for three years.

TL: What was the one thing that sold you on your new firm?

Dinnin: The leadership at Andrews Kurth. As I more seriously considered the possibility of moving, I became very impressed with the mature leadership at the firm, particularly regarding the relatively sound, financially conservative condition and management of the firm.

McDole: Haynes and Boone’s collaborative culture sold me on the firm. Haynes and Boone is a large firm with a strong national reputation (overall and in intellectual property litigation), yet is a true partnership where every attorney in the firm has a vested interest to see each other succeed. There is little to no back-stabbing or hoarding of work. Everyone works together for the good of the firm.

Clifton: The depth and breadth of Winstead’s real estate practice as a better platform for my practice and clients.

TL: What one tip would you give lawyers who want to make a lateral move?

Dinnin: My experience might be a bit unique compared to most lateral moves because I spent 25 years at my former firm before making my first and only lateral move. Also, I was highly encouraged and shepherded in the recruitment and transition process by a particularly close friend and former (now current) partner. The tip that I might make, based on my experience, is to go ahead and take that leap and make that move sooner rather than later.

McDole: Make a list of goals and expectations for your lateral move before you start interviewing. Only then can you do your due diligence to make sure a firm (or corporation) is the right fit for your personality and expertise. Look for a position where you not only can excel, but the people around you will provide the support and platform to help you succeed.

Clifton: Determine whether the firm values and promotes your practice area and experience.