Lawyers have many reasons for switching firms. Some are not happy with their current situation; others want to move up the ladder. For associates, the peak period for making an initial move is between years two through five. A typical lawyer may move two to four times before becoming a partner. A well-planned lateral move can offer more income, better opportunities, and a broader skill-set. For an associate, it often takes at least three months from sending out resumes to the start date with a new firm. It can take much longer for partners, counsel, and in-house attorneys. If you are considering switching firms next year, start as soon as possible because each of the following steps in the lateral move process can take several weeks:
Do Your Research – Make sure the firms you target make sense for your career path.
Send Out Resumes – Update your resume and tailor your cover letter for each firm you are approaching. Follow the submission instructions (electronic or paper) for your target firms.
Screening Interview – Some firms respond to a candidate’s submission immediately. Other firms may take a few weeks or longer to set up a screening interview.
Full Round of Interviews – If the screening interview goes well, a firm will ask the candidate back for a full round of interviews. Be prepared to discuss your legal career with various partners.
Final Round of Interviews – Some firms hold three rounds of interviews to ensure that all key partners are involved.
Firm Makes Offer – Partners meet and decide if they will make an offer.
Accept the Offer – If you receive a written offer letter, respond within 7-14 days.
Background Checks & Conflicts – After you accept an offer, the firm will conduct background and conflict checks. It can take a long time to go through every case you’ve handled during your career.
Give Notice – Wait for the new firm to confirm the background checks and conflicts checks are complete before you let your current employer know that you are leaving.
Reference Checks – The new firm may contact references during the vetting process, or after you’ve confirmed your start date.
Set a Start Date – Most firms will want you to start within a reasonable time frame. Now isn’t the time to let them know about a two-week vacation you have scheduled.
Keep in mind that all of this needs to happen discreetly, as you are billing hours and handling casework at your current firm. Consider working with a recruiter if you are switching firms as we can juggle and optimize the timing of the process. An experienced professional can help with any stage of the process and maximize your chances of getting an offer.