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What's the Best Time of Year to Make a Lateral Move?

What's the Best Time of Year to Make a Lateral Move?

By Elizabeth Lazzara Smith, Esq.
Senior Managing Director
t. 212.897.0985
elizabeth.lazzarasmith@sjlsearch.com
website bio

Happy New Year! ‘Tis the season for making New Year’s Resolutions that you may or may not intend to keep. During any given year, I often hear associates say that they will start thinking about their long-term career options “next year.” So to the extent that you have resolved to make 2015 a year to reflect upon your professional experience and contemplate potential career paths, I hope this article will provide information you can utilize so that this will become one New Year’s Resolution you can keep.

One of the most common questions associates ask me is whether there is a particular time of the year when they should start to explore other opportunities. The following facts about the current legal market illustrate that there is no “one time fits all” approach that applies to exploring other positions.

The lateral market is not static.
An organization hires an experienced lawyer when it is so busy that it needs to add to its team or when it loses an attorney and needs to find a replacement. Thus, the law firm and in-house positions available in August of any given year are unlikely to be available in February of the following year. This means that if you have a particular interest in working at certain firms or companies, then you need to be prepared to act when they have open positions to fill. In order to avoid a scenario where you start a search only to learn that one of your “dream jobs” just hired a lawyer with experience similar to yours, stay informed throughout the year about opportunities that align with your interests and goals.

The lateral market is busy.
You are likely familiar with the law of supply and demand. And given how many hours you probably billed last year, you are also experiencing first-hand that the demand for legal services is very high, which means that the market for experienced attorneys is also robust.

Not only is it easier to make a lateral move when there are more opportunities to pursue, but being a hot commodity in an active market gives lawyers options and enables them to direct and shape their careers in ways that are much more difficult in a slower economy.

Moreover, when a commodity is in demand, its price is often high. Thus, a candidate who receives an offer in a busy market has a better chance of negotiating successfully for a full bonus, even if that candidate will be joining the new organization midway through the year.

The lateral market is saturated with qualified, well-credentialed lawyers.
Therefore, even though the lateral market is busy, searches take time. And, if you are holding out for a very specific opportunity, or if you practice in a specialized field that is not very active, your search may take considerable time. Law firms and companies receive up to several hundred applications for any single position they seek to fill.

So once you have decided to consider other opportunities, in order to avoid ringing in another New Year’s behind the desk where you currently sit, strategically explore interesting and suitable positions throughout the calendar year. Because the best answer to the question, “What time of year should I make a lateral move?” is, “At whatever time of the year when you find the organization and position that aligns with your interests and moves you closer to achieving your long-term goals.”

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