Traditionally, law firms and attorneys engaging in lateral moves identify practitioners who are employed in comparable and congruently similar organizations.

In a global market that requires flexibility to provide legal representation to a multitude of diverse clients, organizations should look at non-traditional sources of potential lateral movers.

In September 2012, after eight years as a staff attorney with the legal services organization Friends of Farmworkers Inc., I left to join Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer and Kupersmith. At my former job, I represented mostly migrant and immigrant farmworkers throughout Pennsylvania in labor and employment cases. I was fortunate to be a part of such an amazing organization that still provides free legal representation, regardless of the clients’ immigration status. I was inspired to embark on this new journey by the firm’s active involvement in communities that I was already serving. The firm impressed me as a socially responsible organization fully committed to helping clients. It was a natural transition to continue to represent the same communities but in a different capacity.

The risk of hiring an attorney who is not currently employed in a comparable organization is immensely outweighed by that attorney’s ability to develop and attract different business opportunities and to connect with clients in dynamic and innovative ways. The attorney can further ensure that the firm’s culture is enriched by varying perspectives and experiences. Our firm has attracted talented attorneys from government agencies such as the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and nonprofit organizations such as MidPenn Legal Services. MidPenn is a public interest law firm dedicated to providing equal access to justice and high-quality civil legal services to low-income residents and survivors of domestic violence in 18 counties in Central Pennsylvania. Attorneys employed in the legal services arena possess transferable skills directly relevant to the private practice. Although attorneys joining the firm may have different substantive legal backgrounds, they bring ample litigation experience and extensive knowledge of our client demographic.

Likewise, the right candidate can inevitably complement and expand a firm’s practice. Attorneys hailing from alternative backgrounds provide fertile ground for new business development opportunities and bring innovative dimensions to already existing legal practices. Because of difficult economic conditions, private law firms are currently in prime position to attract talented attorneys who are suffering through stagnant environments riddled with furloughs, layoffs, salary freezes and overall budget deficits. While economic slowdown has deeply impacted the job market for attorneys, firms should look at this situation as an opportunity to add fluidity to their portfolios. This way, firms are better equipped to provide a more holistic approach to address client needs and expectations.

The larger candidate pool allows firms the opportunity to increase diversity amongst their ranks, while identifying potential lateral movers from untapped markets such as legal services, nonprofit and government settings. According to the sixth annual diversity survey conducted by The Legal Intelligencer in 2012, more than one-third of the new lawyers who joined the 30 largest plaintiffs firms in Pennsylvania were of racially diverse backgrounds. In a practice that inherently serves a diverse client base, multilingual and multicultural work environments make wise business sense.

On January 1, my firm welcomed former Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortes on a special counsel capacity. Cortes served in that role from 2003 to 2010, making him the longest-serving secretary in Pennsylvania history and the first confirmed Latino cabinet member. He brings over 20 years of experience in public service and familiarity with governmental and regulatory issues — an example of how private firms can develop expertise in regulatory, enforcement and policy issues by attracting relevant government attorneys.

Private law firms should embrace and welcome the opportunity to tap into non-traditional sources of lateral moves to attract diverse and talented attorneys. Diversity, in all its forms, enriches a firm’s practice by attracting untapped sources of business, differentiating personalities that make up the firm’s culture and adding dynamic ways in which overall problems are ultimately solved. A diverse membership makes for a stronger organization. •

Teresa Rodriguez practices in the area of personal injury actions at Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith. She has represented hundreds of immigrant, migrant and seasonal farmworkers in labor and employment cases including wage-and-hour, unpaid minimum wage, unpaid overtime, concerted protected activity, health and safety, and discrimination.