Keith Fall and Taylor Miller published by Law.com on junior associate career options.
Let’s consider the following scenario: A young associate in her third year at an Am Law 200 firm receives an offer to take a job as an in-house lawyer. The associate isn’t in love with Big Law, has no deep desire to become an equity partner and harbors vague hopes of someday becoming the general counsel of a Fortune 500 company.
Should she take the job? After all, wouldn’t it be wise to get on the in-house career track as soon as possible, especially if that’s what she may want to do in the future?
We’re loading the question here, of course. We think the associate in question should turn down the offer and keep plugging away at a law firm. As legal search professionals, it’s not uncommon for us to hear from junior associates — some as early as second-years — who are contemplating an exit from private practice. While a move in-house at this stage might be tempting, we think it could close as many career doors as it opens. Not only would such associates be depriving themselves of important skills and contacts gained as a senior associate, it may harm their ability to build a thriving in-house career as well.
We should be very clear: Taking an in-house position can often be a great move for a seasoned attorney. More than ever, legal departments are relying on technology and alternative service providers to perform routine work, and many in-house counsel are grappling with cutting-edge issues involving regulation, business strategy and globalization. As a result, in-house roles require more experience and business savvy than ever before. These aren’t (and never have been) fallback positions for junior associates experiencing ennui about their law firm careers.
In fact, we generally advise against an in-house position unless you’ve put in a minimum of five years or more as an associate. That’s not to say that you should suffer in silence if you hate your present circumstances, but we think there are other options available to help ease the pain.
First, though, let’s talk about the reasons it makes sense for a junior associate to stay on a Big Law path—at least for a few more years.
No Turning Back
Every so often, you’ll read about the retiring general counsel of a major company joining the ranks of an Am Law 200 firm. It makes sense: The GC can provide insight about the in-house world and presumably has made the kinds of contacts that will help drive business to the firm.
What you don’t read about are law firms hiring a host of junior associates from in-house positions. In most circumstances, it’s a one-way route from law firm to in-house. If you make the move to an in-house role, you had better be prepared for an entirely new career path, as it will be extraordinarily difficult for you to move back if you feel you’ve made a mistake.
Some of this is simply a matter of supply and demand. The market is full of well-qualified associates, most of whom will have a risk profile that’s appealing to hiring partners. Those partners may see little incentive in hiring an associate who has quit a big firm and now wants to exit their in-house job. While we have seen associates go back to firms after what were essentiallyone- or two-year secondments, those situations are rare. As recruiters, we aren’t confident we would be able to place a lawyer who simply moved from junior associate to in-house and wanted to jump back.
Experience matters, and it’s one of the key reasons associates should think carefully about moving in-house so early in their careers. Most law firms are committed to training their associates and employ serious resources to do so. Law, after all, is their primary business, and an associate’s services are part of what they sell. As an associate, you may dislike a firm, partner, or a type of matter, but more likely than not, you’re learning a great deal about the basics of handling a variety of legal issues.
As you advance to a senior associate role at most firms, you’ll probably have opportunities to work directly with clients and to take more of a leading role with them. In the meantime, you’ll also be making important contacts with clients, attorneys at your firm and with counsel on the other side of a deal or piece of litigation. All the while, you’ll be operating in an environment where lawyers and their work are highly valued.
For an in-house lawyer, such opportunities may be more limited. The law is almost certainly not the primary business of the enterprise, and, fairly or not, the legal department is often viewed as a cost center by company leaders. It’s less likely that a company is going to spend money training you, and for very junior lawyers, the work may prove even less exciting than some of the tasks you’ve had as an associate. Contract review, anyone?
That’s especially true at smaller companies and startups, where only one or two lawyers may serve the whole company. While you may have instant entrée into the C-suite in such a situation, and you’ll likely get to work closely with the CEO, resources for the department may be extremely limited — even for basic needs like research and outside counsel. At a larger company, you may have the ability to farm out questions to outside counsel, but costs will still be a challenge and routinely reaching out may highlight your status as an inexperienced lawyer.
Furthermore, you’ll need to be prepared for a radical change in your status. As we’ve noted, the law (and lawyers) are at the center of the firm universe. In companies, the business needs of the enterprise take precedence. You will need to be prepared to take those needs into account as you advise your business colleagues. Consistently delivering conservative advice as you would at a law firm will likely frustrate the business team — another factor that could end up stymieing your career path. In-house lawyers who are seen as blockades to business needs rarely rise to the top of corporate law departments.
Associates who’ve stayed at a law firm for five, or better yet, six or seven years, have received more training and should be adequately equipped to cope with a business environment. They are less likely to need to call upon other attorneys for advice or help — something easy to do in a law firm but can be more difficult in a small law department. And if they are interested in moving in-house, senior associates are far more likely to land superior roles that give them a better shot at one day leading a department.
For junior associates, however, the problem remains: what to do if you’re miserable at your current firm. Before making a career-shifting jump in-house, a move that you probably won’t be able to undo, we’d counsel you to take a position at another law firm.
We’ve found that associates, for a variety of reasons, are often reticent about making lateral moves. But we see lateraling as an opportunity for associates to continue to gain critical experience. It can also help them determine if their “buyer’s remorse” is about Big Law in general or about one law firm and its culture. A good recruiter will listen to what associates like or don’t like about their present firms and will offer counsel about firms that may provide a better fit.
From a career perspective, a lateral move keeps the associate’s options open. Hiring partners are more amenable to bringing aboard an associate from another law firm, and a new firm’s culture and/or business strategy could help solve the associate’s immediate problems. Later, when the time is right, the associate may make the jump to a legal department — now armed with a broader set of legal and client skills that should help them thrive in as an in-house lawyer.
Keith Fall is a partner and Taylor Miller is managing director of Walker Associates, a New York-based legal search firm.
Trump Policies Will Drive Growth in Key Practices
To capitalize on the changing landscape, firms should start strategizing about talent now.
Ross Weil and Keith Fall, The National Law Journal | February 27, 2017
Change in Washington can be good—very good—for law firms, particularly if they bet on the right practices and talent to help their clients navigate new political realities.
As strategic advisers to firms, we have been closely watching developments to determine which areas are most likely to provide growth potential for legal business. And based on our market intelligence, we’ve identified six practices that we think will show significant activity.
Naturally, a turn of events (or tweets) could alter the landscape. But given the administration’s initial moves, we see promising developments for well-positioned firms in these practice areas:
During the campaign, President Donald Trump made it clear he would support coal, oil and natural gas providers. So far, he’s made good on his promises.
In January, he resurrected the controversial Keystone Pipeline and sped up work on another pipeline through the Dakotas. He’s also said he would target Obama-era emissions rules that would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants in favor of renewable energy sources. It’s no surprise that deregulation will provide a strong boost to energy and environmental practices as clients attempt to understand the changes.
The impact also is likely to be felt across several other practice areas. For example, if coal regulations loosen, mine acquisitions may heat up — creating work for M&A and finance lawyers. And trade lawyers will be needed to grapple with expected changes in import/export policy affecting energy suppliers.
Mergers & Acquisitions
Some companies may be taking a brief breather from the markets as the administration finds its footing, but in the long run, we expect Trump-led deregulation is likely to spur more deal activity across several industries. (The energy sector, as we said, is ripe for deregulation-driven deals.)
Market volatility, too, may push the Federal Reserve to hold the line on interest rates, which, in turn, will be good news for deal makers. And Trump’s corporate tax cut proposals could free up cash for transactions.
On the deregulation front, Trump has targeted the Dodd-Frank Act for major revisions and has set a May deadline for new Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to examine the law and recommend changes. Any easing of restrictions on bank lending could put more capital in play for a broader array of deals.
President Trump has said that a major announcement on tax reform would be coming in a matter of weeks, and administration officials have said the plan will be the most significant since the Reagan era.
If his campaign platform is any indication, Trump may call for a cut from the current 35 percent rate to 15 percent. Individual tax rates are also on the table, Trump administration officials have said. And Trump has proposed a “repatriation tax holiday” aimed at spurring U.S. companies to bring home cash from overseas accounts.
Corporate tax practices should see an uptick in client interest if the tax plan is enacted. If personal income tax rates are also adjusted, practices serving high-wealth individuals and estates will be active, too. Expect Trump’s efforts to reverberate across practice boundaries. Trade practitioners will need to grapple with the adjustments in import and export rules, and additional cash from tax savings and repatriation may trigger new investments that will keep finance and M&A experts busy.
As a candidate, Trump pledged to make cybersecurity a top priority of his administration. Trump was set to release a new executive order on cybersecurity regulations in January, but scuttled the announcement at the last minute. A draft of the rules, however, leaked to The Washington Post, showing that private businesses are likely to be major players in Trump’s plans.
A Trump focus on cybersecurity will only accelerate business in an area that we believe is ripe for innovative legal work. For firms, data security looks like a multipractice winner. It may provide a litigation growth opportunity in a relatively flat overall market for disputes.
And as corporations look to limit their risk, law firm transactional, intellectual property, privacy and insurance acumen will be needed.
During a post-election speech, Trump recited a litany of public works projects that his administration would tackle. Trump’s plan relies heavily upon private financing. During the campaign, Trump said he would offer $137 billion in federal tax credits to private firms that back transportation projects.
While critics have said a private-financing formula will never pay for all the projects on Trump’s list, any multi-billion-dollar uptick in infrastructure spending is likely to drive revenue for project and public finance practices at firms. The efforts, too, could mean significant work for government contracts-focused practices.
Health care-related practices have been in hyper drive since the Affordable Care Act’s passage six years ago. We expect more of the same — especially with the Trump administration’s pledge to eliminate and replace the ACA.
Merger activity and related antitrust litigation have been exceptionally strong of late, as large players like Cigna, Anthem, Humana and Aetna have attempted consolidation — albeit unsuccessfully. ACA repeal efforts have so far stalled in Congress, as legislators struggle with how (or whether) to construct a replacement. Yet even before the election, bipartisan support had developed for changes in the law. Should the ACA survive, health care regulatory specialists will likely have a full roster of changes to help clients understand and implement.
In general, law firms looking to take advantage of the post-Trump surge in legal work will need to move quickly.
Placing bets now on talent can allow firms to capitalize on the upswing in work expected as the Trump administration matures.
ROSS WEIL AND KEITH FALL are partners with Walker Associates, a New York-based legal search firm that specializes in law firm partner recruitment.
Walker Associates is pleased to announce that Taylor Miller has joined the firm as Managing Director. Mr. Miller concentrates on the placement of attorneys at the partner, counsel and associate level into all areas of practice, as well as into in-house opportunities.
“We are excited to welcome Taylor to our firm, particularly given his expertise in and dedication to the attorney placement process” said Ross Weil, a partner at Walker Associates.
Mr. Miller graduated from New York University, where he received his B.A. degree as a Founder’s Day Scholar. Prior to joining Walker Associates, he worked at another prominent legal recruiting agency in New York City.
“I am thrilled to be a part of Walker Associates’ attorney placement practice” Mr. Miller added. “The firm’s track record, integrity and dedication to impeccable service present a tremendous opportunity for the candidates and clients with whom I work.”
Ross Weil, Partner at Walker Associates, was recently interviewed for an article about land use attorneys in New York City and the possibility of a boom for this practice area. The article covered the thriving New York City real estate market and the resulting increase in workload for land use and zoning attorneys and it raised the possibility that Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious affordable housing initiatives will create substantial additional work for land use attorneys. The contention of the article was that if implementing the mayor’s affordable housing agenda results in new or increased discretionary approval processes for real estate development then there will be an increased need for land use attorneys.
We can only speculate as to the specifics of the mayor’s affordable housing initiative and how its implementation will impact land use attorneys in New York City, but we can speak from a position of experience about land use attorneys transitioning to new firms and about firms building new land use practices. We anticipate growth in the land use/zoning practice area whether it is driven exclusively by the economic recovery and the resulting increase in real estate development in the city or by a combination of increased development and new approval requirements resulting from the mayor’s affordable housing initiatives.
In the past two years, we’ve made four land use/zoning placements in New York City and in the process of doing so, we’ve come to know the field quite well. We’ve placed land use attorneys with long-established relationships and decades of experience in the field. Several of the land use attorneys we’ve placed have a background in government, having begun their careers working for planning and zoning authorities before transitioning to the private sector. This is a common career trajectory for land use attorneys and it leads to familiarity with “both sides of the table” in the land use and zoning space.
If you are interested in learning more about our placements or process email Ross Weil at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With an enormous amount of law firms scattered across the city, it is next to impossible to know all there is about each one of them. With each firm containing their own set of strengths and weaknesses, it becomes important for you as a candidate to gain your own perspective. It is common for our firm to witness a candidate’s opinion shift after having taken an initial meeting, making it all the more important to take a deeper look before making any decision. Below are 3 basic points that we have found to be the catalyst for consideration.
- Websites Only Say So Much
Regardless of all the technological advances in the information age, personally meeting with a firm is still the best way to gain valuable information that cannot be ascertained without an initial meeting. Also, networking with the group of people you will meet at the initial meeting is a great way to get to know a law firm as well as your peers in the industry, which if nothing else, could lead to future referrals.
- It’s Only an Hour
While everyone is busy, and an hour of time feels like a big commitment, we urge you to take a step back and view these meetings in the context of your career. Taking one hour out of the week to meet with the folks who could ultimately be your partners for the rest of your professional life could be the best investment you’ve ever made, at the expense of very little cost. Listen to WHY your recruiter thinks their suggestion to meet with a firm is in your best interest, and evaluate it from there. Many candidates we have placed were reluctant to take the initial meeting because of the time commitment, and they were ultimately surprised by how good of a match it was for them.
- Keeping an Open Mind
It is critical to keep an open mind while assessing future opportunities in today’s law firm climate. The idea is to find the ideal match for yourself and your practice in the long run. It is common for candidates to reject talking to a firm because of something they’ve heard about them in the past. More often than not, this approach stems from a single conversation with a single person. With an open mind candidates are able to get past second hand grudges and evaluate opportunities for themselves.
In summary, taking an initial meeting with a firm that you may be on the fence with is the best way to understand the marketplace. You will be able to create contrast among the different initial meetings and be in a better position to make an informed decision regarding your career. The goal is to find a firm that you will one day be able to retire with, and you want as much information available to you as possible to properly make that very important decision. The best way to gain that information is by knowing what firms are out there, and what their platform and people have to offer.
Walker Associates places partners in law firms in NYC.
Walker Associates’ Partner, Keith Fall, recently moderated a panel discussion on the best practices for legal recruiting success at this year’s National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC) Fall Symposium in New York City. The panel was comprised of industry leaders who could offer perspective from various viewpoints. One panelist specializes in in-house placement at a senior [Read more…]
The early years: Ross was born in White Plains, New York and grew up in Suffern, NY. He went to high school at the Dwight School in New York City. He later attended college at American University in Washington, DC and graduated in 2002 with a degree in accounting.
Why accounting?: During his first accounting class, Ross was intrigued by the logic and thought it would be a good way to guarantee a job out of college and to gain a solid founda- tion in business. Upon graduating Ross became a CPA and worked at both Deloitte (one year) and American Express (three years).
Transition to recruiting: Ross realized he did not like the crazy hours and time pressures with tax and audit season. However, he enjoyed working with people in a team environment and with interesting clients. In late 2006, Ross started his recruiting career with Walker Associ- ates placing accountants, with a focus on partners in accounting firms. To provide the highest financial value, he focused on “revenue producers” that justified their placement fees.
Exposure to legal recruiting: In 2009, an accounting client sought Ross’s help in finding a tax attorney, which introduced him to legal re- cruiting. Ross quickly realized there were more options in the legal field and more reasons for people to move. Ross began to split his desk between accounting and legal recruiting, and in 2010, he moved full-time to legal recruiting.
Landing his first candidate: When he began legal recruiting, Ross dusted off a Martindale-Hubbell and started cold calling partners with a focus in bankruptcy (this was a strategic decision given the economic slowdown at the time). His first candidate was a 43 year-old bank- ruptcy workout attorney who was Counsel at a NY office for a DC-based law firm. Why did this candidate decide to work with Ross? Be- cause, due to prior training in the recruiting field (seminars, courses, retreats) which taught him to ask very smart questions and to listen, Ross was able to generate a trusting relationship with this candidate who felt Ross was the right fit.
Practice progression: Ross’s knowledge of the industry grew and he gradually expanded his network of people in the field. He realized people weren’t being connected with the right headhunters. Ross approached building his practice by getting to know law firms in NY that were not entirely established, avoiding the top Am Law firms. They may not have been the “sexiest” brands but they had good stories and needed recruiters to help communicate the message. This is his niche that continues to this day. On the candidate side, Ross spends a lot of time getting to know his candidates. He works with them for years and strives to become their trusted advisor.
Current Company: At Walker Associates, Ross currently practices with three other people, including his partner and fellow NALSC member, Keith Fall. Keith runs his own desk and works in tandem with Ross. Both focus on law firm partners with an emphasis on New York City. Two other people support their efforts, including outreach and gathering market intelligence.
Perks of being a recruiter: The entrepreneurial lifestyle and being in a business that changes people’s lives.
Biggest challenge: When candidates receive an offer and then go MIA. Ross affectionately refers to himself as “a professional stalker.” When they give in to his follow-ups and he senses they are on the fence, he encourages them to go back to the reasons they con-sidered making a move in the first place. But in the end, he doesn’t push – his goal is to have them move only if it’s in their best interest.
Most difficult experience in legal recruiting: Ross was working on two separate senior partner deals that were about to close and both fell apart for unanticipated and unexpected reasons.
Dealing with the disappointment: Take a time-out- for a whole day or a few hours. He tries to learn something from the experience… and then gets back on the phone ASAP. He adds that the other protection against disappointment is always having several things in the pipe- line.
Best advice for new recruiters: View this as a long-term career proposition. Focusing on partners has to be a 100% commitment. There will be slumps and you need to stay focused. Overall, just stay focused on activity: meeting candidates and setting up first-round meetings.
The personal side: Ross and his wife, Alissa, are proud parents to their six-month old son, Ethan. For the past two years, they have lived in their brownstone in Hoboken, NJ. Ross loves fishing, as it parallels recruiting – “you need to have the rod in the water, and it’s an adrena- line rush when the catch is made.” Plus, he finds it relaxing to be outdoors. Ross also enjoys hot yoga, running, IPA beer, and talking in funny voices to his infant son. The most influential books Ross has read are Tuesdays with Morrie and Who Moved My Cheese. Both books gave him perspective at a young age on how to prepare himself for the different chapters in life. His favorite movie is “Back to the Future” and he listens to Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen (go Jersey!), and classic rock. Ross admires people who figure out what they love to do, then make it their livelihood. “Work then becomes fun – that is very impressive and I think few people figure this out.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Binstock is co-head of the Partner and Practice Group Division of Garrison & Sisson, Inc. (www.g-s.com). Dan can be reached at (202) 559-0472 or email@example.com.
A new year presents a good time to reflect on past successes. Naturally, analyzing our work provides us with a broader perspective on the legal industry and our legal search practice. Walker Associates has used our access and experience to form valuable relationships between our clients and candidates. We have identified and highlighted eight factors that have compelled our candidates to embrace a lateral move with our clients. These factors should be carefully considered when weighing specific reasons to make a lateral move.
1. Enjoy Success
A lateral move offers candidates a chance to be a vital part of a firm that is well-positioned for success. As a member of a successful team, candidates can reap the benefits of success and even [Read more…]
The choices can seem overwhelming when exploring a lateral move within the legal industry. Legal search firms such as Walker Associates take the guesswork and legwork out of finding the right law firm for each partner or partner group. Here are seven advantages of working with a legal search team that every legal professional should consider before contemplating a lateral move.
1. Smooth Negotiations
Managing a low offer, arranging for a particular practice dynamic, or simply asking about benefits can lead to awkward exchanges that might strain a new partnership. Using a recruiter to negotiate compensation and benefits allows candidates to [Read more…]
Even as JPMorgan Chase reports that they have set aside a nest egg of $9.2 billion to cover legal expenses related to their regulatory troubles, revenue growth at many of the largest law firms has slowed. This raises the stakes for law firms and the long-term careers of partners at those firms.
By their nature, law firms are volatile environments where partners seek to make lateral moves into a firm that fits their personality and professional goals. “In an increasingly competitive job market, attorneys need the talents of a well-connected legal search firm that can connect them with the most promising, and often unadvertised, lateral opportunities,” says Keith Fall, partner at Walker Associates.
“Legal services provided to large financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase are generally long-standing, institutionalized relationships,” explains Ross Weil, partner at Walker Associates. “It is rare that a lateral partner can switch firms and bring the entire business without the new firm already having that existing relationship. Firms are sensitive to the likelihood of a client relationship being portable. Plenty of due diligence is performed before judgment is made to extend an offer or pass on the candidate.”
Walker Associates is a New York-based legal search firm dedicated to uniting accomplished partners and partner groups with law firms that “rise above the crowded middle.” They make the exploration of lateral opportunities uncomplicated and transparent.
“We take a customized approach to assisting esteemed partners and select law firm clients build meaningful relationships. Our focus on the New York market not only gives us expertise in the region, it also gives us the ability to establish personal, face-to-face relationships with New York law firms,” says Weil. “We are not ex-attorneys. Our team is made up of accomplished recruiters who understand the complexities of lateral moves and become trusted to those we work with.”