Among Big Law associates, 2018 should go down as a banner year. A majority of Am Law 200 firms adopted sweeping pay increases. Several firms continued last year’s positive trends, including expansion of gender-neutral parental leave policies as well as remote-work arrangements. And market leader Kirkland & Ellis introduced a concierge service—a lifestyle perk, the firm insisted, “not a Band-Aid to a grueling bleed.”
At mid-year, with firms posting their highest gains since 2007, and mergers and acquisitions totaling an unprecedented $2.5 trillion, the lateral hiring market for mid-level and senior associates in New York also fired up, resulting in opportunities we haven’t seen before. In the second half of 2018, for example, we advised four senior associates who lateraled in as partners with mid-sized firms. We also worked with fourth- and fifth-year associates from lesser-known firms who moved into firms that rank among the Am Law 50-75. Eager to get lateral recruits on board fast, the New York offices of these and other firms agreed to pay full year-end bonuses, including to associates hired as late as October. In New York, the strongest lateral demand has been for corporate attorneys, but—in an usual fourth-quarter spike—many firms have widened their searches to encompass countercyclical and niche practices as well.
All of this bodes well for Big Law associates considering career moves in 2019. Act fast, though: Traditionally, firms focus on filling their lateral hiring needs early in the year. If you do decide to seek a move, I recommend submitting not only your resume and law school transcripts but also a list of deals or cases you’ve worked on, along with a description of your role. This additional layer of detail affords firms a more nuanced understanding of who you are and how you might fit their specific hiring needs.
As 2018 winds down, it appears that the market for lateral associates has begun a radical turnabout from 2009. Most Big Law associates are too young to remember, but at that time, a year after the financial collapse, lateral hiring of salaried lawyers plummeted by 46 percent nationwide, and by 54 percent among big law firms, according to research from the National Association for Law Placement. Since 2010, lateral associate hiring has wavered between incremental gains and losses.
Given the ongoing deal boom and Big Law’s recent largesse, however, I expect that in New York, at least, lateral associate hiring in 2018 will surge well beyond last year’s meager 1.7 percent bump. Check back next March, when I’ll report on whether my prediction proves right.