Four Lessons Learned for a Beneficial Lateral Transition

January 7, 2021

Once a decision is made by a Partner to accept the firm’s offer and move their practice, everyone has a role to play to ensuring a smooth and mutually beneficial transition.  While most lawyers ultimately make a successful transition to varying degrees, some make it more easily than others. So what are the lessons learned from those who realize the greatest benefit of their lateral move between firms?

Define Success up Front

While settling into your shiny new office, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of taking your career in a new direction.  However, it is important to remember why you decided to move in the first place.

  • What will your measure of professional success be one, two or five years from now?
  • What are you looking to accomplish in this next phase of your career?
  • How will you know you’ve been successful?
  • What expectations has the firm articulated for your contribution short and long term?
  • How will your new Partners know your integration has been a success?

Knowing the answers to such questions will help guide the focus and development of your practice and your engagement in the firm as a valued colleague.

Understanding your professional objectives coupled with the firm’s expectations will help position you and your firm to make best use of your collective resources to increase your profile in the market and better attract and serve your clients.

Top Grade Your Practice

A frequent concern lawyers face when taking their practice to another firm is the fear that clients may not follow. It is surprising how silently insecure certain Partners can be regarding the strength of their client relationships, irrespective of past success. At the same time, many Partners are reticent to say no to a loss leader client that wants to follow them, for fear of not having the billings to justify their existence at the new firm.

Unfortunately, taking less desirable clients along can impede the growth potential at your new firm. Whether it be referrals from your new Partners, or clients gained through your new “brand” in the market as a result of your relocation, not taking the time to consciously select which clients you keep may limit your ability to maximize your practice during an important window in your career.

From our decades of experience in the legal sector, we find that most practices  shrink slightly in the first transitional year.  Leaving space for the most optimal client mix is both good practice and an incentive to properly build your book of business long term.

Engage All Your New Partners

Another area frequently overlooked by incoming Partners is the opportunity to leverage Partners in their new firm. While most firms make a concerted effort to ensure new Partners are engaged by their practice group (and perhaps complimentary practices or specializations), in larger firms due to their size and footprint across the country, often there is a lost opportunity to connect with lawyers outside the immediate family of the practice group.

Aside from the added benefit of better understanding your new firm’s culture, as a lateral Partner, you may not have the internal networks enjoyed by other lawyers who articled at the firm or those who spent significant time building personal relationships across practice groups.

Where do you start fostering a similar network of strong relationships?  At The Counsel Network, we’ve seen examples of Partners who, once a week, made a point of walking the halls of the other floors at her firm to purposely introduce herself to lawyers outside her group. We’ve also seen lawyers who leverage their travel plans to attend conferences.  They make the time to visit their firm’s office in that local market to facilitate the similar informal introductions.  Putting a friendly face and a good handshake with a new name at the firm is invaluable to building any remote working relationship.  Once they know you, and how you can help their clients, the easier it will be for them to pick up the phone and call.  Better yet, prior to arrival at the local office, communicate your intention to visit local Partners and schedule meetings in advance of your arrival.

These ideas have proven invaluable to new Partners in both raising professional profile inside the firm and sourcing leads from Partners who may fall outside traditional networks.

Act the Part

Perhaps the greatest opportunity in taking on a role with a new firm is the chance for a fresh start. Whether it is finally being recognized as a Partner by your Partners (a common issue faced by those who articled at their firm), actively marketing your new profile in the business community, taking on a leadership role within the firm or industry, or using the transition to properly focus your practice, client base, or industry focus, lawyers who use this window to actively tailor their image to properly reflect their practice goals are consistently the ones able to make the most of their transition.

Similarly, for your clients, you will be the person most responsible for framing your decision to move and how it will increase your value to them. Taking the opportunity to actively define both your reasons for the move and the benefits your new platform will offer your clients can play a pivotal role in achieving success not only for your practice, but the firm’s as well.

In the end, the common theme amongst successful laterals lies in their ability to take an active role in making the most of their transition. While many Partners are readily able to articulate what they are moving away from when leaving a firm, those that are also able to articulate what they are moving towards, and take pro-active steps in achieving these goals, set themselves up to make the most of their lateral move.


Dal Bhathal is a Managing Partner at The Counsel Network, a Canadian legal recruitment firm specializing in legal talent management strategies covering all levels of lawyers and practices for both corporate legal departments and law firms.  To discuss best practices to integrate lateral Partners contact, contact Dal at or 416.364.6654/604.643.1708. 


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