Legal Career Resources

Fall 2014 Attorney Legal Hiring Update: Law Firms Are Seeking Top Lateral Talent
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The legal employment market, like any other, is cyclical in nature, with its inherent fluctuations and varying levels of supply and demand. While the market for lateral hiring remains quite strong, there has been a definite adjustment in hiring trends even amongst the busiest of firms.

When law firms and their clients are flush with activity, firms will be more inclined to relax their hiring standards in order to have enough legal power to service their clients’ needs. They would consider associates with “borderline” academic credentials, retool associates lacking the appropriate skill set, and take a chance on candidates who have already made a number of lateral moves or who are coming from “lower-tier” firms. All of these adjustments in hiring policies were made to limit the amount of work and number of clients firms had to turn away.


Over the past several years, deal work has been less voluminous and there is a corresponding decrease in the need to staff departments aggressively. As such, firms still need to hire lateral associates, but they have also returned to their former more stringent hiring requirements. The rigorous standards used to evaluate a candidate’s academics and experience, which once defined the selectively of the firm, have been reinstated as the benchmarks of “marketability.”

We have noticed that many associates are questioning their need to make a move, solely because they are anxious about the state of the economy. Firms are still in a hiring mode, not a firing mode. If there are deficits in your skill set or if you are not thriving in your current working environment, then it is still wise to continue to be proactive about building your career.

Those lawyers who graduated from top law schools, at the top of their class with top law firm experience, prestigious clerkships or appealing language abilities, can maintain their marketability in any market, and will continue to be able to accomplish multiple goals with a single lateral move. In the past few years a lawyer without stellar credentials could exploit the needs of the market and conceivably change his or her specialty, improve upon the prestige of the firm and make more money — all in one move. That is no longer a realistic expectation, and the vast majority of associates should be prepared to achieve far less from a single lateral move.

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  • For example, if you are a young litigator with good hands-on experience and excellent independent writing skills, you may no longer be able to make a “step up” to a more prestigious firm while shifting to a chosen sub-specialty. But you will certainly remain attractive to an active litigation practice.

See litigation jobs on BCG Attorney Search for current openings.

  • Conversely, if your experience has been limited to document review on mega-cases, without exposure to deposition, motion or trial work, you will find it more challenging to procure an interview with any active litigation practice. You will be more successful applying for a position at a less prestigious firm that can provide you with the experience you lack.

See litigation jobs on BCG Attorney Search for current openings.

  • Similarly, transactional attorneys must realize that the market now requires a candidate to command greater levels of relevant experience doing the “right” kind of transactions, at the “right” kind of firms.

See corporate jobs on BCG Attorney Search for current openings.

Given these parameters, if you are seeking a change you must be realistic regarding the nature and range of options available to someone of your background and experience. It is important to realize that an “upgrade” to a higher-tier firm will not be as a result of a frenzied need to staff a department with associates, but will only be based upon the credentials and the skill set you offer to a prospective employer.

For an interesting discussion of the differences between corporate and litigation hiring, see: Choosing Between Corporate and Litigation Practice Areas: Which is Better for Your Career

To be successful in your job search, it is imperative to compare the quality of your experience, skills and/or firm to other candidates competing for the same positions. This analysis will determine how flexible you will need to be, and where you might need to compromise in order to achieve your goal. In order to change or add to a skill set, you may have to compromise on the size or stature of the firm, class standing, or remuneration in order to learn what you will ultimately need.

If you are considering a change you carefully assess the nature of your malcontent, prioritize your goals in the context of a move and analyze all realistic options. By being realistic, it is still possible to effect a positive job change, which will ultimately serve to enhance your long-term prospects, and make you less susceptible to future fluctuations in the market.


By: Harrison Barnes, Managing Director of BCG Attorney Search

Harrison Barnes



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