General Counsel SearchesLateral Partner RecruitingLaw Firm Associate RecruitingIn-House Counsel Recruiting

Long gone are the days when associates cemented a career path with the initial law firm they joined upon graduating law school. The dynamic shifts in both the economy and the legal industry currently trend towards lateral hiring.

In 2021 alone, a surge of interest led to a 149% increase in lateral hiring. Though it slowed in subsequent years, it remains an effective option today for those seeking to achieve better partnership prospects, pursue different practice areas, or gain a fresh client base.

A well-structured timeline allows you to plan a graceful exit from one law firm and a stress-free entrance into a new one.

Understanding the Lateral Hiring Landscape

Lateral hiring isn’t unique to the legal field. Across industries, when companies hire laterally, it opens opportunities for inter-office mentorships, client expansions, and talent retention. Lateral moves in law, however, have been remarkably successful in recent years, benefiting both firms and lateral hires alike. 

The law firm often enjoys:

  • An easier way to fill gaps in their offered expertise
  • The ability to target certain clients, sectors, or industries
  • Expansion into new geographic territory

As for the lateral hires, they often receive:

  • A fresh start (for clientele, location, and more)
  • The ability to gain expertise in a different field
  • Experience at a more prestigious firm, or a firm with a more robust presence in their area of expertise
  • Greater advancement opportunities (partnership prospects)

In short: It’s mutually beneficial for both parties—as long as it’s conducted properly.

Considerations in Preparing for the Move

Let’s look at the law firm lateral hiring timeline again. How long should a transition take for a lateral associate? The quick answer is: it depends. 

Below we’ve put together a potential timeline based on the average experience of a lateral hire, with the understanding that the law firm hiring process looks different for everyone.

When first considering a lateral move, you must ask yourself a few important questions. Subjective factors can make or break your desire to work at a new firm, and they’re among the first considerations you should entertain. 

  • Is the firm a good culture fit for you? 
  • What are their remote work policies? 
  • Will you be able to advance toward your career goals?
  • Can you work in your preferred practice area?
  • Do they offer a positive lawyer work-life balance?

You should also consider the location you’re moving to and if you like it. Living in a city or state that you don’t love may negatively influence even the most well-suited law jobs.

Legal recruiting firms can help you define your key expectations so you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for. After you’ve made up your mind, it’s time to get into the fundamentals of making a lateral jump.

Step 1: Research and Assess Potential Law Firms

Your first step is to look deeper into law firms that you feel might be a good fit.

Financial factors

The financial status of a firm is crucial. Know their compensation models. What is the anticipated timeline for eligibility to promotion to partner? Ask about the firm’s 5-year plan.

Practice fit

A lateral move should net you more opportunities. Evaluate how easy it will be to service your current clients and what your new client pool may look like. What kind of support will you receive from the marketing or administrative teams? Will the new firm meet your needs?

When you work closely with a recruiter from a legal recruiting firm, they understand your career objectives and can help you sort through law firms to find one that fits your wants and needs well.

Next, it’s time to create initial contacts and apply to your chosen firms. Each law firm has its own hiring and onboarding process for lateral hires. 

Step 2: Screening and Interview Process

Part two of the law firm lateral hiring timeline is the interview process. If the hiring firm accepts your application and you move onto the interviewing stage, you could face:

  • Screenings
  • Panels
  • Skill assessments

You’ll likely meet with a hiring partner and the leaders of the practice group. Additionally, the interview process often involves administrative or marketing team members.

This is often the longest part of the process because it takes some time to get everyone’s schedules aligned. The more open your schedule is, the faster the process will go. 

Step 3: Navigating Offer Negotiations

Even when you have your offer, know that you’re not quite past the finish line yet.

Your offer will contain information about salary, benefits, and other specifications for what to expect when working with this law firm. Note that it’s common practice for the law firm to call you with a verbal offer before you get it in writing. Your legal recruiter can help you practice what to say in advance, so you aren’t caught off-guard.

This is also where you consider whether or not there’s room for improvement in the terms of the offer and consider whether or not to negotiate any of these terms. As a lateral law firm associate you have the right to negotiate, and your recruiter can help you craft negotiations that convey your intentions in the most professional and complete way.
After accepting the offer, you must undergo background checks and conflict checks. Remember: always wait until you have the finalized offer in hand before giving your current firm or employer notice.

Additional Insights

The lateral hiring process varies, and changes based on:

  • The recruiting activities of the law firm
  • How quick you are to respond
  • Your needs and the law firm’s needs
  • The time of year
  • The overall economy

The law firm lateral hiring timeline has changed over the past several years, given the transition to video interviews. You can skip over the hassle of travel and getting multiple busy schedules aligned, which means you potentially shave weeks off of the longest part of the process.

Seek Better Opportunities with E.P. Dine

After understanding the landscape you’re stepping into and considering what you want out of the move, it’s a relatively straight-forward system of applications, interviews, and negotiating the best possible opportunities.

The law firm hiring process does take time to get through, but you can expedite it if you have the right tools and knowledge. E.P. Dine provides you with the invaluable expertise and aid of a legal recruiter.

The right recruiter can walk you through any questions and do the legwork on your behalf, leaving you free to organize the most crucial parts of lateral move preparation.

If you’d like to learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. You’ll gain an ally who will aim to get you that new position that can open doors, bring in fresh clients, and lead you to the new career path you’ve been waiting for.


  1. NALP. Lateral Hiring Slows in Most Markets in 2022, But Not for Partners.
  2. Reuters. Factors law firm partners should consider when making a lateral move.
  3. The American Lawyer. From Six Months to Six Weeks: Lateral Hiring is Speeding Up.

At E.P. Dine, we are committed to delivering content that is not only relevant and insightful but also rooted in professional integrity and expertise. To achieve this, every article published on the E.P. Dine blog undergoes a meticulous review process by qualified professionals with deep knowledge and experience in the legal field and legal recruitment.

Melissa Collery


Melissa has been a recruiter for over 20 years and is Co-CEO at E.P. Dine and Managing Partner of the In-House Division. During her tenure at E.P. Dine, Melissa has had the privilege to work with the most prestigious companies and law firms throughout the country and attorneys from all walks of the profession.

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