Our associate editor and former legal recruitment consultant, Husnara Begum, shares her top ten tips for making your first lateral move.
It’s suffice to say the Covid-19 pandemic had a catastrophic impact on the jobs market and law was by means an exception. With many firms putting the brakes on lateral recruitment the vacancies list rapidly contracted. Meanwhile, other employers went further and reduced headcount. The end result was a torrid jobs market and an over-supply of candidates.
But what a difference a year makes! Fast forward 12 months and the outlook couldn’t look any better with some legal recruiters telling me it’s rapidly turned into a candidate-led jobs market and resulted in certain practice areas struggling to fill vacancies. And then there’s the associate salary war – but I’ll save that for another time.
If reading this has whet your appetite and you’re contemplating making your first lateral move have a read of my top ten tips, particularly if this is your first foray into the world of legal recruiters.
- From the outset, consider your motivations for moving and write them down; for example, do you long for better work-life balance, an increased salary, improved promotion prospects, a “step-up” in firm and/or team? Rank your motivations in terms of priority and refer back regularly; it will keep you focused and help ensure your new role is the right one for you.
- Prepare and plan. Be ‘recruiter ready’ and remember to update both your CV and LinkedIn profile (click here for tips on how to draft a show stopping legal CV). Also, get your paperwork in order, including academic transcripts and certificates. It’s also worth having a serious think about contacts to approach regarding personal references. Tap into your network and identify recruiters who are familiar with your practice area and have senior contacts at target firms. And don’t be swayed by recruiters simply because they are ‘friendly’ or ‘helpful’. In my personal opinion a recruiter is only as good as the vacancies they are working on. Also, remember to keep a detailed record of all the recruiters and other individuals you speak to about your search, including and any positions applied for. This will reduce the risk of a firm receiving your CV from more than one source and spare your blushes.
- Research. Find out as much information as possible about the firms and teams you’re considering applying to and speak with any trusted contacts, who may be able to share inside info on the culture, team structure etc. This is particularly important for private practice roles because firms very rarely provide job specs.
- Meet the team. Often candidates will be given an opportunity to meet junior members of the team, either just before or after the offer stage. This can offer a real insight into day-to-day life at a firm, however, remember if the meeting takes place before you receive an offer it will form part of the selection process – be professional and continue to make a good impression.
- Make an evidence-based decision. If offered a role, do you have all the information you need to make an informed decision? If you still have questions, request a ‘warts and all’ call with the recruiting partner one last time to iron out any concerns you may still have about accepting an offer. Additionally, speak to other trusted contacts for further advice and insight, remembering if they make sweeping comments – negative or positive about a firm, team or individuals – politely ask for evidence to support such claims.
- Be timely. Although you should never rush or let recruiters pressurise you into making a final decision. Equally, do not wait too long and avoid playing games if you have competing offers – firms can, and do, revoke offers.
- Be realistic about remuneration. Find out about the pay structure at the firm / in-house legal team and negotiate if you think there’s scope. Be aspirational but realistic in your expectations and consider the prevailing market conditions (note what I said about the associate pay war above). Remember, junior associates generally have far less bargaining power, and sometimes none at all (for example, if a firm operates an associate lockstep). In contrast, pay scales for in-house legal jobs are more fluid.
- Ensure your resignation is properly timed. Caution is the order of day. As they say, it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings. If necessary, conflict checks can take some time and you may not want to resign before these have been completed. Although, failure to pass conflicts doesn’t necessarily have to be a deal-breaker, if you’re in any doubt, seek guidance from your recruiter or speak with the hiring firm. Similarly, I’d advise against pulling out of other processes or turning down a counter-offer until you’ve received a written offer and had time to read through the small print. Note: most offers will be subject to references and conflicts and will contain a probation period typically lasting six months.
- Plan your last day and start date. If possible, try to take a short break before starting your new role so you feel all refreshed on your first day. If you cannot negotiate your notice period and/or start date, consider using any accrued holiday allowance at the end of your notice period.
- Finally, leave on good terms. Never burn bridges and even if your firm is unhappy with you leaving, try to take the higher moral ground and focus on your exciting new position (and do not forget to congratulate yourself!).