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Tips on Making a Lateral Associate Move (Part 3—Offer and Acceptance)

The Careerist

November 27, 2012

Angela Kopolovich, managing director of recruiting firm Alegna International, is the guest blogger. This is the last installment of a three-part series on making a lateral move.
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Part 3 - Moving On

by Angela Kopolovich

You've done the groundwork for landing a new job and survived the grueling interview process. After several anxiety-filled weeks, you’ve finally received good news: a job offer. Congratulations!

But wait, don't celebrate just yet.

When you get that call from the hiring partner with the offer, don't jump at it. You should thank him/her, and say you’re looking forward to reviewing the details in the offer letter. Be enthusiastic, but don’t commit to anything until you see it in writing.

Remember, the offer is always conditional on your clearing various checks. As you know from law school: conditional = revocable. So proceed with caution.

1. Preparing for background, conflicts, and reference checks. The offer letter usually arrives with several attachments, including:

    - The background check—Fill this form out immediately. This usually takes the longest time to process, so it should be submitted right away to avoid delays.

    - The conflicts check —Be ready with a list of clients and matters you’ve worked on—all of them. Once you submit this form, the firm’s conflicts department goes to work, running those names against its client database for adverse representations. If something is flagged, a firm will put up an ethical wall (also called an ethical screen) before your start date. It’s rare that an offer is revoked due to insurmountable conflicts, but it can happen.

    - Your references—Be sure to pick someone who will give you a positive review. What happens, though, when the new firm insists that you give the name of your supervising partner—the person who's the very reason you’ve decided to leave?

First, try to push back delicately, and suggest other references, at least until you’ve given notice. If that doesn’t work, you should diplomatically explain the issue to the new firm. If you suspect that your supervising partner will not act professionally, say so. Tread lightly here. Refusing to provide a reference the new firm wants might cost you the offer. You’ll have to weigh whether the risks are worth it. And, yes, some people decide it's too risky and find themselves stuck where they are.

2. Giving notice and negotiating a start date. After clearing the checks, it's time to give notice. Two weeks' notice is standard. If you’ve decided to take a vacation in the hopes of decompressing, or to detox from the Xanax you’ve been popping like M&M’s, that’s fine. Taking four weeks between jobs is generally acceptable. Another week or two is also okay, if a relocation is involved. But don’t make your new firm wait too long.

3. Navigating the counteroffer. After you give notice, your current firm might decide that you are absolutely indispensable and make you a counteroffer. When firms go into counteroffer mode, they pull out all the stops. They’ll say and do just about anything to keep you from walking out the door. Recently a firm called my candidate’s spouse to get her to convince the candidate not to leave. It was creepy and reminded me of Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate.

Let me be clear: Never, ever accept a counteroffer. When faced with the idea of losing a good associate, employers make promises that are rarely kept. Three months later, all the same issues that bothered you will resurface. What's more, the firm will see you as disloyal for going behind its back. When the time comes for reviews or promotions, it will be held against you. The bond of trust is broken. I could go on about why accepting a counteroffer is a bad idea, but just take my word for it.

Ta-dah! That’s it. The process is finally over. You can start transitioning your matters, and watch as your soon-to-be-former colleagues turn into green-eyed monsters.

But take the time to write a departure letter. It should be a brief email indicating your last day, expressing your gratitude for the opportunities afforded to you, and including your contact information for the future. A departure letter is not the appropriate forum for a psychotic rant. Try to avoid having it turned into a tabloid headline. No matter how bad the situation, don't burn bridges on the way out.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist

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Comments

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Hi Jill,

Thanks for much for taking the time to comment! You make some excellent points. I think that realizing that there are real people on the other side of that lengthy online application process is very encouraging!

Folks, it's is not often that we get this kind of frank insight from a Recruiting Director. Consider Jill's advice carefully.

I couldn't agree more about the "never accept the counteroffer" information. I'm a recruiting director at a sizable firm and have had candidates decline our offers because of a counter. To a person, I've heard back from every one of them within several months to find out if the position is still available because the current firm didn't live up to the promises it made, or people have begun treating the attorney differently.


Your firm will send the closest person to you to talk to you, convince you to stay, etc. Remember that nobody has your best interest at heart except for you. It sounds cold, but it's true. The same applies to any industry, not just the legal world.


On a side note regarding the application process, it's always best to follow the set instructions for applying. For example, if a job posting says to apply online, don't e-mail the recruiting director, mail or fax in your documents, etc. We sometimes receive hundreds of candidates for a single position and when they start flooding our personal inboxes it becomes unwieldy. There is a better chance that your application could get lost in the shuffle, delayed, etc.


If you apply through the online portal at the larger firms (when instructed to do it that way) then your application goes into the recruiting database and is a little safer. Every candidate must go into the recruiting database, so if you submit your application outside of that it must be entered manually by firm personnel, which doesn't get a gold star placed by your name. If you know someone within the firm it's okay to send it to them, but you should still do the online application if that is the posted instruction, and let your contact know that you applied online.

You should also indicate in your online application that you have a contact within the firm and are also sending your information to that person. When we do the first round screening of candidates to forward to the attorneys for interview consideration, that will stop me from rejecting a not-quite-right match and will cause me to call the person you mentioned. That has resulted in interviews for many candidates who normally wouldn't receive an interview based on their paper. I've seen those interviews occasionally result in offers, even though the candidate isn't exactly what we were looking for.


For your cover letters, be sure to include information regarding how the firm would benefit from hiring you. Too many cover letters talk solely about the reason the firm would be good for the attorney. That isn't nearly as important as what benefit the firm will gain by hiring you. In a field of at least dozens of candidates you want to set yourself apart, and a cover letter that indicates the value to us (without arrogance or overinflating) will help get our attention.


Good luck out there. It's such an ugly market, and I always try to help candidates by providing feedback whenever possible. Remember that many times not getting the position isn't because you did anything wrong, it's just that the competition is so fierce. We've seen many wonderful candidates that we've agonized over rejecting.

Stay determined and keep working at it. The right job happens when you least expect it, and often in a way you hadn't anticipated.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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