Making a lateral firm move is a very big consideration, and we at Top Tier Legal Search understand that there are many factors to consider. One question we get often from attorneys – both new and established attorneys – is whether we think they could pull off a change in practice group and if they should.
We know how frustrating it can be as a young associate to pick your group for seemingly your entire career while you are in law school, before you really know what the practice of law will look like. A lot of us choose wrong, or wish we had picked something else. Believe us – if this is you, you are not alone. So we often are speaking with candidates in this boat, and we would love to help them since our goal is truly for people to be happy in their jobs.
In our practice, Top Tier has divided a practice group move into two categories with our own fun terminology: (1) a practice group pivot and (2) a practice group switch. The former is something we believe is doable, and can be a great idea in some instances, but often requires the candidate to be working with a skilled legal recruiter who knows how to market that person correctly. The latter, unfortunately, can prove very difficult, although there are ways to make it happen. We go into both below:
A practice group pivot is when you are not making a total change, but your current practice area is related to the one you are moving to. An example of this would be moving from a capital markets centric corporate position to a finance position, or even to M&A, or a switch from M&A to fund formation. In litigation it would be a move from insurance defense litigation to general commercial litigation, for example. These type of moves can happen, and we at Top Tier Legal Search have placed numerous candidates wanting to make this type of pivot in their career. It takes finding a recruiter who believes in you, and will go the extra mile to market you well, as well as some old fashion luck.
If you are interested in making a practice group pivot, there are a lot of pluses to this move. One, it can make the job interesting again, and two, can help broaden your experience if you ever wanted to go in-house one day. It can also just be a way to try something new, without seemingly losing everything you have already done and all the skills you have achieved.
A practice group switch is when you are making a complete change, the most obvious example being a move from litigation to corporate or corporate to litigation. This move is much more difficult to make. From the firm perspective, whether fair or not, they will look at your experience as almost entry level, even though we know there are many reasons you can argue that your firm life and experience alone is valuable, and what you do is connected, it is not something firm’s really buy that often. Thus, you are in some way competing with summer associates and entry level first years that are already on their way to these firms. (This does not mean it never happens, it is just usually a very hard change to make). And in many ways, firms would rather have the green new recently graduated attorney who they can mold into the practice group, rather than someone coming in with firm experience in an entirely different area.
Our advice for corporate attorneys looking to make an entire switch to litigation is to strongly consider a clerkship path. We have seen candidates who have successfully landed a clerkship and then used it to transition to litigation. The move from litigation to corporate is more difficult, but we have seen some candidates pull it off, usually by going to a smaller firm and gaining the experience, and then trying to work their way up from there. We would definitely be happy to speak to you about strategies that might make the most sense for you if you are really unhappy in the practice group you have ended up in and want to make a major switch. But know the reality is that it is an uphill battle.
However one very important disclaimer here: we always tell our candidates who think they want a practice group switch to really learn about what they are looking to do with extensive research on what your day to day would look like. A lot of candidates are interested in practice groups without truly knowing a lot about them, and in the end, they often end up being happier where they were before and regret the move. In other words, it is often not the practice, but what they really needed originally was actually just a lateral move, and the issues that were making them unhappy were other problems with their firm and group, and they thought it was the material itself. It is often a good idea to try a lateral move first in the same practice area and see if maybe that is what is happening in your situation, before trying to make a pivot, since often the person wants to pivot back. Of course, if you are absolutely sure that a change is what you want, the points in this article are definitely things to consider.
Contact us as Top Tier Legal Search if you want to discuss your own career and goals at firstname.lastname@example.org.