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Practice lawyers – when is the best time to make a lateral move?

The legal market is finally rebounding from the effects of the recession. Law firms are becoming increasingly busy with new instructions and as such are looking to grow their headcounts with lateral hires to manage the increased workload. Practice lawyers are now in a position where they are able to take advantage of this, by moving to other private practice firms that better suit their short and long term career goals. But when is the best time in your career to make a lateral move?

Where do I start?

During the first year of your career as a qualified solicitor, you will likely begin to develop an idea of the direction you would like your career to progress in. At this point, you can begin to ask yourself if you are in an environment that is likely to support this. Are you looking for a better work/life balance, more responsibility or greater client exposure? Are you are aspiring to eventually make partner? Are you are looking to eventually move in-house and want to improve your technical ability in commercial or finance work?

What next?

Once you combine all your criteria together and you consider which private practice firms fit in with this, you will likely only be left with a handful of options. This in itself is not a problem and it is good to have a targeted market to approach when you do come to move on. However, you want to make sure that when you do approach this small number of firms, that you come as close as possible to being their ideal candidate so they will be more likely to interview you and ultimately, more likely to make you an offer. This will greatly depend on the quality of your experience to date and how transferable this is to the work that the firms are engaged in. However, it also depends on the level of experience you have, which is something that is often overlooked. If you can approach the market at the point where firms are most likely to hire externally, combined with the strength of your experience, you will maximise your chances of success.

When do firms look to hire?

Law firms tend to hire externally at three separate experience levels- NQ, 2-4PQE and 4-6PQE. This broadly correlates with the titles of solicitor, associate and senior associate. The most popular level to hire, however, is at 2-4PQE or the associate level and this is where the majority of opportunities lie.

What else can I do?

Approaching the market at the level where there are most opportunities available will increase your chances at successfully securing your ideal position. However, if you are looking to move at a level or within a practice area where opportunities are rarer, you will need to do what you can to widen the pool of opportunities available to you. To achieve this, some recruitment agencies will encourage individuals to apply for positions that are ideally pinned at a more junior or more senior level to them and this can sometimes yield success.
However, in these situations individuals can often get trumped during the interview process, by other individuals who are better suited to the role in terms of their experience level and if this happens on multiple occasions it can become frustrating.


If you are looking to make a lateral move currently or in the next six months, you will need to work with a recruitment consultant who can help you clarify which elements of a position are important to you moving forward and which firms in the market align with those elements. At Michael Page Legal, once we have taken the time to have this initial conversation with the individuals we work with, we will advise them honestly about how best to successfully secure their ideal positions, even if that means not approaching the market right away.
If you would like to have a conversation to this effect or are looking for a move generally please contact Hamish Drake, Senior Consultant at Michael Page Legal.
T: 0207 269 2492