Sunday, September 28, 2008

Heller Serves as a Good Reminder

HP is sorry to hear about Heller's impending dissolution.  I worked with some of their attorneys and found them to be talented and dedicated.  Alas, they will be out in the legal job market now, too.  Unfortunately, they are out at a time when firm hiring is pretty flat.  My legal recruiting friend tells me (even before Heller's announcement) that lateral associate hiring is quiet.  Partners with books of business (of course) can find new firms.  But, worker bee partners, counsel, and associates (aka "grinders or minders") are going to have a difficult time finding new firms, unless the rainmaking partner friend takes them along or they fill a very particular niche at a firm that is willing to hire them.

I realize most of you do not work at Heller.  But, this situation presents a good lesson in remembering that the boom days are over and none of us are indispensable.  You need to set yourself up, the best you can, for alternative situations.  This applies equally to involuntary moves as well as to voluntary moves -- e.g., you need a change versus firm dissolving.  Or, the firm brought in three lateral associates from a lateral group who are now above you class-wise.
Things happen.  Yes, even to star associates.  As they say, life is not fair.  It is not always the most qualified person who advances. 

So, what can the Heller attorneys do?  My advice on this one applies to any attorney who needs or wants to move laterally.  First, find yourself a reputable headhunter.  Ask respected friends for advice.  I used a headhunter when I moved and several former colleagues asked me months, even years, later, for the name of my recruiter.  Listen to what he or she says about the market, your chances, etc.  But, if you want something and they are not enthusiastic, you may need to find another recruiter.  I had a former colleague who wanted to be a reduced schedule partner and her firm did not allow those arrangements.  She consulted a recruiter who said that he had never placed a part time partner.  So, she got another recruiter.  Guess what...found a firm who made her a partner and let her have the reduced schedule.  Why did this work out?  The lawyer was committed to the advancement, she had portable business that would and did move with her, and the recruiter thought outside of the box.  

Next -- this may sound obvious but it is really important -- network.  Reach out to people in your network and let them know you may be interested in a move.  Be cautious of course because you want to keep this quiet if you are still at your job (of course, the Heller attorneys don't have to keep quiet).  Sometimes, a contact in your network will put you in touch with a contact in their network.  Go ahead and reach out.  Many people will be surprisingly helpful.  Plus, if a law firm lawyer connects you with a great in-house job, there's a potential benefit for that attorney since you may send business.  

Who is your network?  Former colleagues who have moved to firms, companies, etc.  People you know in your community (e.g., parents of kids on your kids' sports teams who are also professionals).  Case in point.  HP's friend had a great job open in friend's organization.  Friend asked HP did HP know anyone.  HP thought a minute then emailed a parent/lawyer friend at another firm.  That person wasn't looking to leave but had a friend who was.  That friend got the job.  

We will discuss networking and strategies for exiting in greater detail in further posts.  

Some keys are:  maintain a strong reputation - make sure people inside and outside your firm/company/organization like and respect you -- i.e. don't be an a-hole; stay in touch with your former colleagues, classmates, etc. through the years; get involved in firm/company activities, bar activities etc.  This will build your reputation.  

Of course, having some portable business if you want to move firms is always a huge plus and will give you more options.  Since this is a junior audience (I think), I won't harp on it, but we will explore how one develops business.  It is possible, even for those who don't come from $$$ or professional families and who don't see themselves as rainmakers.  Again, we'll discuss later.  The bottom line is that "minders" and "grinders," of course, have fewer options than "finders."  A good lesson to keep in mind.  


Anonymous said...

Great post, I look forward to reading your suggestions about networking to keep lateral options open and building a book of business.

Anonymous said...

This is a very helpful "primer" - look forward to hearing about those topics in more depth! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Can you offer some advice to current 2Ls deciding which firm to summer with next year? Are bigger, more prestigious firms (e.g. V10 firms) necessarily better than smaller, regional firms in such uncertain times? With my massive loans, I can't afford to be laid off.

Anonymous said...

I have heard people say that it's easier, in general, to get first-year and lateral associate jobs if you're willing to do tax work, because lots of people don't want to do it. Do you think this is true? Thanks.