The Waiting Period and Lateral Partner Interviews

So you’ve just finished a round of interviews and are feeling optimistic.  During the meetings, you and the interviewers hit it off.  It was obvious there’s a strong fit, both in terms of practice and personality.  You’re thinking, “I could actually see this working.”  As much as you want to stay level-headed, you can’t deny the excitement of continuing the process. 

But then time seems to slow down and you’re suddenly in what feels like an extended waiting period. 

You question whether your enthusiasm may have been premature. 

This can be especially stressful if you are speaking with multiple firms and you’re not sure how to navigate timing issues.  Do you follow up?  Do you wait for them to contact you?  If you’re working with a recruiter, do you share what’s going through your head? (Answer: yes.)

Some days, I spend a considerable amount of time talking partners through the waiting period. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind during the waiting period.

  • If you are involved in lateral partner hiring at your own firm, you realize that even when there is genuine interest and enthusiasm, there are many behind-the-scenes moving pieces that often need to be put into place before continuing the process. But not all firms are the same, and some partners are not involved in the hiring process other than interviews. 
  • Some firms have very streamlined processes where practice group leaders can make the hiring decisions unilaterally, but that’s often not the case. More often, even if the practice group leaders have bought into your hire, there are numerous other key players who need to get on board.  What you don’t see going on behind the scenes is a variety of discussions to “make the case” to get certain key decision-makers bought in, dealing with possible pushback or resistance due to any number of reasons (e.g., a potential conflict with one of your main clients, a mixed experience with one of the firm’s partners on a prior matter, etc.).  While some firms can move through this process fairly quickly, it often takes time.  Often weeks, and sometimes months.
  • If you are coming from a high-level government position and have not yet been a partner in a firm (and exposed to all the inner-workings), it’s important to realize that time often moves slowly for the candidate but quickly for the law firm. Two weeks for you can seem like a long time when you’re waiting for “a sign”, but it’s still a short time in law firm world. 

There are two types of waiting periods. 

  • Pulling the Right Levers Behind the Scenes: Although you might not hear anything definitive from the firm (they may relay a message such as “we received very good feedback and are discussing things on our end”), the pieces are moving.  Just a few of these things include: 
    • Internal meetings with key stakeholders are taking place. This can consist of multiple meetings over a few weeks (especially if people are very busy). 
    • If you’re at the LPQ stage, it’s being vetted. Financial proformas are being run to analyze your potential profitability and whether they can match or exceed your current compensation in such as way that warrants further discussion.
    • Conflicts checks are occurring.
  • Delaying the Inevitable “No”. This one is not fun.  The interviewing partners really liked you and think there could be a fit, but as they reflect on the meetings, they come to realize it may be an uphill climb.  For example, you may have appealing experience but your portable business is a bit below their current thresholds (or there may be doubts about the accuracy of your projections).  The partner who is “sponsoring” your candidacy realizes it will be an uphill climb to get buy-in from the broader hiring committee.  Or, perhaps this sponsoring partner recently went to the mat and expended political capital in trying to get buy-in for another partner a few months ago, and is hesitant to go through the process again.  So the process starts to languish.  In this case, the firm does not want to say “no” right away because there was genuine interest (at least by some people), but given the obstacles, there is not enough buy-in to push the process.  As such, the process starts to die on the vine.  As a recruiter, when I see this happening, I ask my contact at the firm:  “If you had to make a prediction based on what you’re seeing today, what would be your best guess?”  This usually gets to the point.

So how do you best handle the waiting period?

  • Unless you have a reason to check in, don’t check in simply to quell your own angst.
  • Always have a legitimate reason for checking in. What’s legitimate?  For example, you are speaking to multiple firms and this firm is falling behind in the process.  Firms are juggling many candidates and if they are falling behind, they want to know this.  But ideally, if the firm is doing their job right, they will keep you updated, even if it’s simply to say, “We are working through things on our end.  Please let us know if you have any questions or timing issues from your end.” 
  • If you are working with a recruiter, the recruiter will be able to serve as an intermediary to check in regularly to get more granular updates. At the right time, the recruiter can also get a better sense of whether the firm is pulling the right levers or appears to be delaying the inevitable no. 
  • If you are working with a recruiter and expressing angst or frustration during the waiting period (which is extremely common and normal), it’s very important that your recruiter not act on your angst the wrong way. For example, an inexperienced recruiter could interpret your angst as something more than it is and go back to the firm and say, “Candidate is getting anxious – what’s going on?”  Firms do not respond favorably to that type of messaging.  However, if the delay has the potential to tank the deal, your recruiter should be able to communicate this the right way.  So it’s critical that your recruiter is perceptive enough to understand the difference and act – or, more importantly, not act — accordingly.
  • Lastly, take a deep breath. If it’s truly a good fit and meant to work out, it will.      

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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

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