When is the right time to make a lateral move in your career?

Published On: April 14, 2016

01603 516261   |    07960 743650   |    info@olsenrecruitment.com

01603 516261      07960 743650      info@olsenrecruitment.com


A lateral or sideways career move is usually defined as a move to an equivalent position within a law firm or to a similar position/level in a new law firm. In both cases this means a similar job title with similar remuneration. It is now common for solicitors and partners to make at least one lateral move in their careers for a number of reasons (see next section). It is also common to see law firms take on lateral hires to fill vacancies.

Lateral moves can also occur when recruitment consultants such as Olsen Recruitment “create vacancies” for candidates by interesting law firms in particular individuals – especially those who have a portable business area (sometimes called ‘a following’).

Reasons for making a lateral move

There are two broad reasons for making a lateral move – either personal or professional. Often these are intertwined. On the personal side, specific reasons can range from family requirements to lifestyle improvements. On the professional side, a person’s reasons can vary widely but are normally related to work objectives or improved career prospects. Two of these might be:

  • The desire to gain further experience in their own or a closely related field
  • The observation that there is no clear advancement or career path (they feel “stuck” in their present position and it may be many years before any advancement is possible)

Note salary or benefits should not be a prime reason as a lateral move implies these will remain very similar.

Whatever the reason(s), an individual must be very sure about their reasons and objectives before actively seeking a lateral move.

Lateral move options

Individuals have just two lateral move options – to transfer internally or to join another law firm.

If a law firm is a large one with a wide practice, an internal lateral transfer may be possible.  Obviously, it is up to the individual to let management or the partners know of his/her wishes and realise that the lateral move may not be immediately forthcoming as some planning and adjustments will likely be needed.

Making a lateral move to another law firm is more complicated as it will involve a focussed “job search” (which is where Olsen Recruitment can help). However, an external move can be more beneficial in more closely satisfying the reasons behind the move.

When to make a lateral move

In general, it is easier to make a lateral move in the first seven years of PQE.   For those with over 10 years PQE at non-partner level, certain barriers can arise both with internal and external moves.  With an internal lateral move law firms may lose revenue during adjustments to the practice while an external lateral move may cause the new law firm considerable expenses in taking on a new staff member.

One particular advantage or positive for an individual considering an external lateral move is when the individual has developed a respectable portable business or ‘following’ – say with a yearly value of circa £120,000 – £500,000 (in the Norwich area). This means the individual is attractive from both bringing new business (and possibly in a new practice area) to the new firm as well as providing a source of early additional profit.

On the negative side, an individual who has made, say, three lateral moves in his/her first few PQE years may cause a potential firm to view the candidate with some caution.  For example, the partners would question why the applicant wants or needs to move yet again.

Aside from the preferred 0–7 years window for a move, it is also necessary to consider the overall job market. It may be that lateral hiring conditions are good – particularly if firms are expanding – or that the market is quiet. Olsen Recruitment can, of course, advise you on market conditions and opportunities.

How to Proceed

Whether you’re thinking of making a lateral or any other sort of move, why not contact us? We can have a coffee and no-obligation chat, discuss your situation and likely give you something to think about or mull over. We realise many of the people we talk to are not in a position to make an immediate decision but, if in a few months or more down the line, they decide they are interested in exploring a lateral move, we can help at that time.

Call us today on 01603 516261 or 07960 743650 or email us at info@olsenrecruitment.khdigitaldev.co.uk to arrange an informal discussion.

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