Lateral Partner Interviewing – Four Key Things Firms Focus On

When interviewing as a lateral partner, firms tend to focus on four things: 

(1) reason for move, as well as whether you have made frequent past moves;

(2) fit (including personality, skillset, clients);

(3) business development potential; and

(4) economics/profitability. 

Each of these interview questions are discussed in detail below.

REASON FOR MOVE/STABILITY

The most important thing interviewers want to know about a candidate is: “Why are you considering a move?”

(Note: If a firm has specifically reached out to you in a targeted fashion, the importance of this question is obviously minimized during the interview since you are simply responding to an invitation.  Nonetheless, even if the firm is contacting you and courting you, you should still be prepared to explain — at some point — why you are receptive to the overture.)

In terms of answering the “Why are you considering a move?” interview question, examples of some of the responses that are most well-received by new firms include:

  • Client conflicts that are unavoidable, recurring, and negatively impact your practice. 
  • Billing rate challenges.
  • Lack of other practice areas to fully support your client needs.
  • Limited geographic footprint that impacts your clients negatively.
  • Non-collaborative compensation structure.  (The flip side of the coin is a compensation structure that does not recognize origination credit enough.)
  • Difficulty in hiring talented associates and other support for your practice.
  • Lower profit margins than peer firms, resulting in you earning less for the same amount of work.
  • High attrition that negatively affects stability and morale

Note: If you have made multiple moves over the course of your career or in the fairly recent past (e.g., a move within the past two years or two moves within the past six years), you should be prepared to explain those moves in a way that makes sense and reflects thoughtfulness.  There is always an underlying concern that partners who have moved more frequently in the past are more likely to move again.

FIT

“Fit” is a catch-all category with multiple elements.  While there are no set interview questions that speak directly to this, the areas of focus are:  

  • Personality: Will they enjoy working with you, could they comfortably introduce you to their own clients.
  • Level of Skills/Abilities: Is your quality of lawyering a fit with the new firm’s standards? 
  • Client Base: Do your clients fit on their platform?  This can encompass conflicts (both legal and business, such as “Coke vs. Pepsi” or “branded vs. generic pharma”), billing rates, etc.

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT POTENTIAL

Here, firms are exploring whether you are likely to develop business on your own, either from new clients or current firm clients who could benefit from your skillset.  There are situations where partners have developed significant amounts of business at their current firms, but due to the institutional nature of the work, the work is not portable.  Most firms place more of an emphasis on immediately portable business.  This can be helpful in terms of your ability to generate business internally, but firms place a much higher value on partner candidates who have strong enough client relationships such that those clients will follow to the new firm. 

ECONOMICS /PROFITABILITY

How long will it take for you (and your team) to generate a profit and what is the profit margin of your practice.  As you likely know, firms have various software programs that are able to crunch numbers to determine individual lawyer and practice area profit margins.  Keep in mind that if the profit margin of your practice is 26%, it’s going to be a heavy lift to move to a firm that has an overall profit margin of, say, 43%. 

See here for additional reading on the four main reasons lateral partners move.

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Picture of Author: Dan Binstock

Author: Dan Binstock

Dan co-owns Garrison & Sisson, where he focuses on lateral partner and practice group placements. He has consistently been recognized as one of the Top 100 Global Legal Strategists and Consultants by LawDragon, and authored "The Attorney's Guide to Using (or Not Using) Legal Recruiters." Dan is the Immediate Past President of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC), where he also served as Chair of the Ethics Committee. Visit here to learn more about Dan, or contact him confidentially with any questions at (202) 559-0492 or dbinstock@g-s.com.

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