Adapting to COVID was a time. Now that the smoke and lawyer cat videos have cleared, there have been two competing takes on what the “new normal” will mean for the industry. The first is the “fall in line or else” approach usually expected of Biglaw. Sure, working from your living room was nice and all, but the office is calling. So return. Or else. But not all firms are using the adapt with vinegar approach. A couple are realizing that honey — acknowledging that much of the work doesn’t require team members to meet in person and trusting in their capabilities — not only attracts worker bees, it attracts a swarm of ‘em.
When Paul Hastings recruited a 43-lawyer restructuring team from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, chair Frank Lopez called it “one of those unicorn situations that happens once in a decade in the legal market.” Yet in post-pandemic hindsight, the Am Law 50 firm’s eye-catching acquisition appears to have been at the front end of a wave of ever-growing group departures involving professionals in different cities.
Less than one year later, a 44-person cybersecurity team from Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith roughly matched the Stroock departure by relocating to Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete in 17 different cities. And within the last month, 130 lawyers have defected from Lewis Brisbois to a nationwide startup created by former labor and employment leaders.
Smaller group moves have also transpired with professionals based in multiple locations. Norton Rose Fulbright recruited a team of lawyers representing finance and tech companies in St. Louis and Atlanta from Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius recruited 10 of Stroock’s consumer finance litigators in several cities.
These group laterals could be the new normal. For one, lateraling with a bunch of your coworkers is an easy way of skipping the dreaded talking phase of adjusting to a new Name & Name firm. Second, having teams of lawyers able to work together on matters from different offices, homes, and time zones has a benefit that is hard to reap in brick-and-mortar-obsessed firms without the threat of sleep deprivation; when you have that many people spread out, it is basically always 5 p.m. somewhere:
Even more willing to embrace multijurisdictional group additions are leaders at Constangy Brooks, which followed its group addition from Lewis Brisbois with another cyber team from Octillo Law in five locations.
The round-the-clock nature of cyber services allows for a more dispersed and virtual workplace environment, leaders said.
“We had to take everything we knew about smaller groups and expand that, navigate things so that we could make it as smooth as possible to make sure not to disrupt the billing process,” said Teresa Bult, administrative partner and general counsel for Constangy Brooks.
Group lateral moves do carry with them some particular growing pains. A consequence of the novelty is that firms may have to go out of their way to establish safeguards to maintain cohesion:
Many firms also lack a standardized integration process across their offices and practice groups. Some only focus the screening process on the partners leading the prospective group and neglect to vet the attendant associates, counsel and other professional staff.
“We’ve seen instances where teams split up after moving,” Hamman said. “If the entire team is not vetted properly, the new firm’s platform may not be as adequate for them as others. You need to make sure you have done that on the front end to make sure the entire team is something that you need.”
I get the feeling that the wrinkles will get ironed out over time. It’s been clear for a while now that lawyers are willing to trade a bit of salary if it means that they can enjoy the COVID comforts they’ve grown accustomed to. If firms can bite the bullet and adjust to these clear trends, there is a lot of money to be made.
Large Lateral Moves Are Raising the Competitive Ante for Law Firms [Law.com]
Earlier: The Office Exodus: Why Lawyers Are Trading Higher Salaries To Work From Home
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at email@example.com and by tweet at @WritesForRent.
Leave a Reply