The Street Smart Law Blog

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  • Frederick L Shelton

When Should a BigLaw Associate Move?

When young attorneys first get to BigLaw, they start out doing the worst work they'll ever do.

Welcome to Doc Review etc.


Don't worry, the work gets better. But what if the partner you're doing most of your work for, is a barely functioning alcoholic whose idea of mentoring is writing "Did you even GO to law school???" (Yes I've seen that one)

What if the department you're in is filled with hyper-competitive sharks who believe the key to success is sabotaging those around them (Seen that too!)? When should a BigLaw (and most other) associate make a move? After 25 years as a legal recruiter, I can assure you that the general rule based on Supply & Demand hasn't changed much.

The most sought after associate candidates are 2 - 4 years out. Demand drops by at least 20% for 5th year attorneys (still making them marketable) and if you go through the various job boards etc. you'll find that for every position seeking a 6th+ year or senior associate, there are five or more positions for those with 2 - 4 years of experience.

The reasons for this are pretty simple: 1. At 2 - 4 years, you've got enough skills and experience to be of value but you're also cheap (if you can call $200K+ cheap!) and 2. You're still malleable. Partners want someone who knows how to review, write and bill but also fresh enough to learn all the best habits and practices (which of course, are that partner's habits and practices).

Thus if you're seasoned enough to think for yourself, they don't get to mold you in their image. I know, I know it's shocking that ego would come into play when discussing attorneys but there it is. This is of course, somewhat tongue-in-cheek but accurate nonetheless.

The most difficult candidates to place are senior associates and service partners (partners who don't have their own client base). This is not to say it can't be done - especially in particularly hot practice areas like Cybersecurity, Blockchain & FinTech, Cannabis etc. but the general rule is at 6 or more years out, the demand plummets.

Keep in mind, this applies to firms only - in-house has a completely different set of dynamics.

If you're beyond your 5th year and a head hunter tells you they want to represent you, make sure you get it in writing that they will not submit your resume anywhere without your prior consent (this is actually on many websites like ours) and also that they won't even suggest a submission without verifying they have talked to a partner and confirmed there is an opening for someone at your level.

When is the best time for an AmLaw associate to move? In their 2nd - 5th year.

Frederick L Shelton

CEO, Shelton & Steele 702-534-0100