Best practices for interviewing as a lateral associate

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There will likely come a time when you will want to explore other paths and/or firms during your legal career. You may look to expand your career prospects, boost your marketability, find better work/life balance, relocate or globalize your career.

Whatever your reason for engaging with a new firm, there are some common motivating factors for considering a lateral associate move to get you to your end goal. To help guide you in your long-term career planning and the interviewing process, we’ve partnered with Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) — the world’s leading legal search firm — to identify some best practices and tips for a successful transition.

Retool your practice

A common motivator for many lawyers who make lateral career moves is the ability to add to their skill set for greater marketability and career options. The process of retooling, or making a practice area switch, is possible. But you will want to be realistic if you decide to pivot from a narrow practice specialty to a broader practice area, or vice versa.

Making a practice switch midstream in your career can be difficult, and it may require a reduction in compensation. So, it’s best to pick your first associate role carefully with future goals in mind. A wise early career choice will provide the greatest chance for ongoing satisfaction and success, both personally and financially.

Enhance your pedigree

Hopefully, the pedigree of your law firm will open doors well into the future. But if you choose to make a move, consider the overall reputation of any law firms you plan to interview with as well as their reputation in your specific practice area. Chambers and Partners can be a helpful resource for finding firms that are strong in your current or desired practice area.

Consider compensation

Will a lateral associate move enhance your compensation or hurt it? Now may be a good time to assess the market against your current compensation if financial growth is a motivating factor for you. A visit with a legal recruiter will likely shed light on what’s attainable and how to refine or broaden your practice area to position yourself for the future.

Find your happy place

There’s not much worse than being unhappy in your work, and it’s a good reason to make a career change. But first, it’s important to understand why you’re unhappy. Is your work/life balance out of whack? Growth potential lacking? Practice area not what you expected? Culture not a good fit? The answer should help you with your next steps.


Relocation to a larger or smaller market or one closer to family and friends can provide a great career (and outlook) boost. To best navigate connections and firms in a specific geography, it again makes sense to find a recruiter who knows the market where you want to land.

Here, also, are some strategies to use for taking a second U.S. bar exam and for becoming licensed in another state or jurisdiction beyond your UBE score.

If relocation is in your plans to globalize your career, BARBRI has courses to help you expand your career prospects and marketability in the U.S. or England and Wales. Our Extended U.S. Bar Prep provides options for studying for the New York, California or another state bar exam. To help you prepare to become an English solicitor, we offer SQE Prep for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam.

Beginning the lateral process

You’ve identified that a lateral associate career shift is in your best interest. Now it’s time to put the process in motion. The experience can be very different from OCIs or your first-job interview. Here’s how to master making a lateral practice move.

Resume. Be sure your credentials are well highlighted, and don’t forget to interject a bit of your personality. A recruiter may be better able to make a connection with you if there’s some common ground either in your work or your life situation. Include all relevant experience without editing yourself too much. 

Deal sheet. This isn’t always required to get an interview, but it can be helpful for touching on cases and clients of significance. Cater your deal sheet to the firm you are going after for best results.

The right recruiter. Don’t be afraid to talk to multiple recruiters and ask them questions to ensure they have your best interests in mind. Find out who colleagues and friends have used — look for a great experience. The right recruiter will help you polish your interview skills. Plus, they can help you leverage multiple offers.

Questions to ask during a lateral interview

What mentorship opportunities exist?

What will my training look like?

How is work divided out among associates?

Are there opportunities to branch out to other practice areas?

What does the typical workload look like at my level?

Questions you might be asked during a lateral interview

What is motivating you to make this move?

Why do you want to leave your current firm?

Why are you interested in our firm?

How does your practice break down and what are your roles/responsibilities?

What is your drafting experience?

There is value in interviewing with firms you may not be 100% interested in. The intent here is to hone your interviewing skills for THE ONE. Besides, the additional activity will make you that much more enticing to other firms.

To learn more about best practices for interviewing as a lateral associate, watch the video.

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