A Big Law Survival Guide for Lateral Attorneys

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 07, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Lateral attorney hires aren't always in the same boat as fresh-from-school hires. Anyone who's ever worked at a big firm will tell you that Big Law politics aren't easy to navigate. If you're making a lateral move from another big firm, then you might have some understanding on what to expect as a newly hired lateral attorney.

Whether you're coming from a big firm or a small firm, there are some things you should know about making a lateral move.

Your honeymoon is short. Younger associates are given a lot more leeway in making mistakes. The lateral associate doesn't always get a free pass on errors, even insignificant ones. Different partners will have different expectations and some will have unrealistic expectations for a "mid-level" associate. Don't take tiny mistakes for granted.

Make alliances with other associates. The other associates are not your enemies. True, you're all competing for the same bottom line, but you don't know them. And they all know one and other. Don't make enemies.

Keep your interaction with partners under wraps. Nobody likes a teacher's pet of a brown-noser, especially if it's a new lateral associate. If you want to build a relationship with a partner, keep in on the DL. Don't rub it in the faces of other associates and try to keep social conversations with the partners behind closed doors.

Take initiative on all your small tasks. Remember, you're being judged and first impressions are everything. Take initiative and set your brand as a hard worker. This branding can be what saves you when you make an inevitable mistake.

Invest in training. Unlike the home-raised associates, there's a good chance that you won't benefit from much of the training that the firm provides in the early years. Ask partners for additional training opportunities. If your firm doesn't support this, then you might have to take initiative and train yourself through extra reading, CLE courses or networking events.

As with any legal job, make sure you're on top of your billable hours, check your work over before submitting it and make sure you put your best foot forward. When in doubt, keep quiet and observe.

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