As a law firm associate, making a lateral move to another firm is no easy task. It can be a long and complex process that requires careful reflection and diligent preparation at every stage. As a recruiter who specializes in helping associates make lateral moves to Am Law 100 firms, I know first-hand how tricky it can be to navigate this process. I help my candidates prepare for tough interview questions, avoid common pitfalls, and ensure they’re presented in the best possible light.

This is the step-by-step guide I use with associates to guide them through a lateral move:

Research the best opportunities for a lateral move.

When you work with a recruiter, you’ll have access to a wider range of opportunities than you would be able to find on your own. At the beginning of a placement search, I start by identifying the best potential candidates for that role. But what these candidates may not realize is that I’ll keep them in mind for other roles, too. As a recruiter, I have access to both posted roles and unposted roles, including openings that have not been formally announced, purely due to my relationships with certain law firms. If I’m working with an exceptional candidate with a sought-after skill, unique experience, or stellar academic credentials, I’ll proactively reach out to all of my firm contacts. In these cases, firms can often be opportunistic to bring in this high level of talent, even without a set role.

Position the candidate for the initial screening.

Once I’ve identified the right opportunities for a lateral move, I’ll work with this candidate to polish their resume and frame their experience in the best light. Recruiters see hundreds of resumes every month. We know what your competition is doing, we know what will resonate with the big firms, and we know what not to do. The legal industry is unique in its approach to resumes: more detail is often better and the antiquated one-page rule is not usually the best way to showcase what the candidate really has to offer a particular firm. The people who will be evaluating you want to see specific representative matters of the work that you’ve done. I find it an essential part of the process to go through my candidates’ resumes with a fine tooth comb in order to make them the most marketable. Having a strong showing right from the start is how that door with a new potential top firm first opens.

Prepare the candidate for interviews.

For an associate position, the norm is to go through two interview rounds. The first round will usually be a screening with a small number of partners. The second round will be more extensive,  which will include a number of meetings with more partners as well as associates, and often times also includes a meal together. Occasionally, there will be a third round if there are key decision makers who weren’t available during the second round visit.

These interviews can be stressful since the candidate is being evaluated by so many people. I usually start by having my candidates review a number of interview prep sheets in order to give them a good overview of what to expect.  Most importantly, they should be extremely familiar with all of the listed experience on their resume, so that during the interview, the conversation flows very naturally. We will also go through practice questions together, polishing answers and delivery and highlighting topics I know will be covered. The candidate should also do some research on that actual firm and have some thoughtful questions prepared.  Finally, I’ll give the candidate my notes about the specific partners they’re going to meet so they know exactly what to expect during the interview. Being over-prepared for an interview is the best way to ease nerves and come across in the best possible light.

Help the candidate pick the best firm for them.

If a candidate is fortunate enough to receive multiple offers, the final step is to help the candidate decide which firm is the best fit for them. Most of the top Am Law firms are “lockstep”, which means they have a set salary and bonus scale based on your class year. Therefore, often times, the choice is not about money. Key factors I discuss with my candidates are firm culture issues, inside knowledge about certain practice groups, and long-term goals. Having a third party to discuss these issues with can help make this process more seamless.

Making a lateral move is an important change. An experienced recruiter can help make this process as manageable and stress-free as possible. Questions about what to expect, how to get started or what’s happening in the market right now?


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