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Lateral Move Trends in 2023 for UK Senior Solicitors

Over the past 18 months Ortus Group has facilitated more than 30 lateral moves and executive search cases. There is no question that the present landscape is dynamic and bubbling with activity. While no two lateral moves are alike, the team has seen some consistent lateral move trends and this article explores some of those. 

The Most Successful Lateral Moves Start With the Right Mindset

Regardless of motive, lateral moves for senior solicitors can be challenging. Without careful execution, it could be a case of jumping out of the frying pan, into the fire. We talk about this quite extensively in our previous articles about strategising lateral moves and finding the right law firm for you. That said, when senior solicitors choose to move towards a meeting of minds, rather than fleeing bad situations, lateral moves are more often than not very successful. 

The Appeal of Top 50-200 Firms

A majority of good senior solicitors have gravitated towards the lower three quarters of the top 200 firms in recent years for several good reasons. Such firms typically grant lawyers a greater degree of autonomy and in turn, influence over developing their practice areas. As a result, they are more in control of their practice and are typically able to contribute more actively to overall strategic decisions. This in turn leads to a greater impact on clients and cases for solicitors who enjoy greater client contact and involvement throughout the working process.

Smaller firms also offer unparalleled flexibility and work-life balance which enables their staff to strike an equilibrium between personal and professional aspirations. 

What about the Top 50 Firms? 

The largest firms have an undoubtable level of prestige, reputation and brand value and many consider having the right badge on your business card to be a big thing and assume that the larger the firm, the more likely a person is to be held with a certain esteem.

This perception holds weight because the largest firms can attract the largest clients with complex and interesting work. Directors of FTSE 250 companies often need the comfort of having appointed a law firm that nobody dares to question on choice in the event that things go wrong. 

One prevailing mindset is the belief that ‘moving onwards and upwards’ equates to moving to a larger and more prestigious firm. While ideal for some, it is not for everybody.

While the cases and the clients may be more intricate with a gilded offer to match, solicitors who move into the top 50 should have the appetite for intensity and be prepared for high-pressure environments.  

What are the Most In-Demand Practice Areas?

Over the past few years, Ortus Group has seen a constant demand for corporate, dispute resolution and private client practices. 

Given the erratic nature of the global economy since the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen ebb and flows in the demand for various areas of expertise. As expected, corporate lawyers will always be in demand during a bull market, and demand for litigation emerges as the bull market slows. 

In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of activity in real estate, construction and family law. Regardless of what the economy is doing, private clients will be in demand as high net-value individuals will always be seeking ways to protect their assets. 

In the greater market, areas such as environmental law, renewable energy, and sustainability are gaining prominence as society becomes more focused on addressing climate change and promoting sustainable practices. Solicitors with expertise in these fields are highly sought after as governments and organisations navigate legal complexities related to environmental regulations and green initiatives. 

Is There Such a Thing as Excessive Moves? 

The legal sector is more accepting, if not appreciative towards lateral moves today than ever before. However, frequent moves are likely to raise concerns about stability and commitment, not to mention the likelihood of building a loyal client base to be diminished. A pattern of multiple consecutive lateral moves can be perceived as a lack of dedication or inability to thrive. Furthermore, the extensive transition periods associated with each move can be disruptive to firm-wide workflow and productivity. 

Generally speaking, we advise associates to stay at least three years in order to be taken seriously. This applies for lateral moves as well, otherwise people will assume that they have failed to deliver a client base. A very important caveat to this advice is to never stay around in a toxic work environment purely because you are afraid of damaging your CV – your health and wellbeing is far more important than this. It is possible to address this in such a way as not to put off a potential future firm. 

Considering Your Career and Wondering Where to Start?

The highest performing professionals in the legal sector tend to approach their career moves strategically. They are always in touch with how well aligned their present firm is with professional and personal aspirations and have a keen sense of objectivity and opportunism. 

Through this honest and clear approach towards their professional path, these people are able to make level-headed decisions towards their next step and make good decisions when they do not need to move so they never move when ‘any port during a storm’ is possible. 

From understanding this, Ortus Group developed a free-to-use self-assessment tool to simplify the annual review that a good lawyer should do in order to stay on top of their career.
Alternatively, the team is ever ready to help. Reach out to Ortus Group for a no-obligation chat for more answers.

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