The Life and Death of a Counteroffer: An Epic Story

counteroffer at a law firm

Counteroffers are a tricky beast. Receiving one feels great, and accepting one, like eating a bunch of french fries just once in awhile, can be a guilty pleasure with limited consequences.  But counteroffers have the potential to wreak havoc on your job search timeline, damage your reputation and even squash real opportunity if you let them. Though there is always risk in a job search, such as the risk that your current firm will find out that you’re looking for outside opportunities before you are safely on the roster at a new firm, a counteroffer can throw another complication into the mix.

How you handle a counter can call into question your intentions and loyalty. To accept one is to make yourself the bad guy at both your suitor firm and your current firm — not only were you secretive about your job search (for obvious reasons) and dissatisfied to such a degree that you seriously considering harm to your firm for personal gain, but also you have now betrayed the new commitment you’ve made to your new firm.  More than likely you have also said a few things to the suitor firm about the old one that were calculated to ingratiate you to the new firm, and should you accept a counteroffer, it won’t look so great. Here’s how to navigate and leverage the situation with the end result landing you in a chair (or staying in your old one) at the firm with the greatest opportunity. Consider this is your handy counteroffers rulebook also known as:

How to Avoid Screwing the Pooch.

Picture this: You’ve put in several years at your current firm, and over the course of those years you have identified one or two ways that your firm is not serving you or your clients. Whether they offer only narrow upward mobility, less-than-ideal compensation structure or a platform with limited reach, you’ve already cast the proverbial net in shallow waters in hopes of catching your big break. This net probably includes a knowledgeable recruiter who will be able to tell you both when it’s time for you to move and where you might look. You’re introduced to a firm with your ideal combination of a rich culture, global platform, stellar clients, and all of those other nice qualities that will take your practice to the next level. You make it through rounds and rounds of interviews and meetings and lunches, all the while becoming well-acquainted with people you can envision yourself working alongside. You land and accept a kick ass job offer from this great firm and confidently submit resignation at your old one. It’s a done deal, and you feel really good about it.

Then, an impressive counteroffer hits your desk. The comp is higher, perhaps there is a promotion in title, and as much as you want to, you don’t hate it. Now what?

In order to navigate this situation, you first need to understand a firm’s motive to make a counteroffer. The cold hard truth is that if you leave, it will cost them money. Replacing you will be expensive. You may be planning to take some or all of your clients with you. The firm will inevitably lose profits as long as your seat is open, which, depending on the unique value that you bring to a firm, could be a while if not indefinite. The loss of manpower will also be top of their minds. In their rigorous commission of keeping clients happy, your departure is likely to have a direct impact on this effort in more ways than one. There’s even the matter of pride. They really hate the idea of losing one of their own to a competitor.

The short-term upside of making a counteroffer is so great for firms that a number of firms in biglaw even have a policy that requires the firm to make a counteroffer to any employee giving notice when hours are over a certain level. Obviously, receiving a counteroffer out of obligation is not too flattering, but that’s neither here nor there. The firm is going to look out for the firm — they are not looking out for your individual career. They only want to save money and save face.

What about your upside? Truthfully, there can be quite a few advantages of accepting a counteroffer. Think about it: you’ll get all the perks of moving up in rank and nothing has to change! Your daily routines and commute would stay the same, you won’t have to get to know a whole new lot of people, and you’ll even get to stay seated at your old desk — hey, you have to admit that in these past few days you’ve grown pretty nostalgic about leaving this ratty old thing behind. Life as you know it only gets better with your fancy new promotion, right?

…you know where this is going.

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Five Steps to Getting the Job You’ve Always Wanted in BigLaw

A recent article in The Economist discussed ‘How to join the 1%.’ The article starts by saying, “Management consultants, investment banks and big law firms are the Holy Trinity of white-collar careers.” To many of our candidates and most of our clients, this statement is a truism. The article concludes by counseling that the key to joining the 1% is not so much brainpower but self-confidence and people skills.  This is something that we at Kinney Recruiting have known for a long time. While, for better or worse,  we work primarily with elite candidates, many just don’t cut it to progress through the biglaw ranks because of intangibles.  Some of our most successful placements have been people who were less brainy and more people-skilled.  The article got me thinking: What does our experience tell us about the best tips for getting and staying with the biglaw elite?

[Caveat: In our opinion, one remains a part of the biglaw elite so long as he/she is employed in a “desirable” position from the point of view of an attorney at the same level.  Though always rare, the closer a biglaw partner gets to retirement age, the fewer such jobs exist outside of biglaw.]How to make it in BigLaw

Step 1: Focus your College Career
Starting in undergrad and through law school, have an idea of what your goals are. If it’s getting into a top ten law school or joining a top ten firm, keep in mind that your grades and GPA are going to matter. Sure, everyone wants the typical college experience, but sometimes you have to think of the big picture. If you want to graduate at the top of your class, you’re going to need to spend some time a lot of time in the library. And when you’re not studying, you should be thinking about what area of law you want to work in. While in law school, explore the type of law that interests you through your internships. Having a job offer before you graduate with your JD is key, so take the time a figure out exactly what direction to steer your career.

Step 2: Learn a Language
With so many firms going international, being fluent in a second language is a huge advantage.  It’s naive to think that big firms these days are only working with English-speakers. You will have the opportunity to use most languages in the course of your work, and if you are working in Asia for example, you will absolutely need to speak the local language to converse with clients.  That’s why we recommend you learn a language.  The truth is that native English speakers who have actually learned to speak a foreign language well enough to easily and fluently converse in the language are just more interesting and self-confident than those who haven’t bothered.  As such, they perform better in interviews. Better performance in interviews means more offers.  Done.

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Chicago: A Look at 2014 Trends and What’s Coming in 2015

At Kinney Recruiting we like to collect and use data to help people make informed decisions. Now that we’re almost half-way through 2015, we wanted to take a look back at what we saw in 2014 so we could give some thoughts on what the rest of 2015 will hold for those looking at potential lateral moves in the Chicago market.  As always, we reserve a fair amount of our data for our clients and candidates, so if you any questions about the information below, please get in touch – chicago@kinneyrecruiting.com.Chicago Partner Graph

Over the course of the last five years (2010 through 2014), lateral partner moves in Chicago have predominantly come in three major practice areas: Corporate, Intellectual Property and Litigation. The latter category leads the way in total number of moves, 56, but moves in IP practices saw the biggest percentage increase. Partnership movement increased in all three areas from 2013 to 2014. The number of Litigation partner lateral hires has grown each year since 2010 and in 2014 there was a 14% jump from 2013. Corporate partner lateral moves were up 23% in 2014 and the IP partner moves were up 56% from 2013. A couple of other areas worthy of note because of increased velocity were in Labor & Employment and Government. There was a 100% increase in L&E Partner lateral hires and a 200% increase in Government partner lateral hires.

The same three areas of law that dominated the partnership lateral hires were similarly active for associate moves. In all three areas there was positive growth in the five year period from 2010-2014. But despite an increase in lateral hiring of partners from 2013 to 2014, the trend was actually reversed for associates. In this time frame, Corporate laterals dropped the most with a 62% decrease in hires. Lateral litigation associate hires dropped 38% and IP dropped 13%. Despite the large increase in partnership laterals in Labor & Employment from 2013 to 2014, there was a dip of 29% for the associates. Areas such as Bankruptcy-Corporate Restructuring and Healthcare stayed even for the year and there was an increase for ERISA/Employee Benefits laterals.

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Stepping Stones of Staffing: A Look into What it Takes to Staff a Major Firm’s New Office

staffing a major law firm

Those of us at Kinney Recruiting have built a lot of connections and friendships over the years with law firm partners and staff. Luckily, most of us are likeable most of the time, and we don’t have many enemies (though there are a few small firms and one large firm out there who don’t like us because we made them pay their bills when they would rather have not, but that’s another story).

So we tend to see lots of opportunities.

One of our favorite things to do for firms is a major “soup to nuts” staffing project for a new office.  We’ve become experts at that, and I thought it might be useful to use the backdrop of recent experience to describe the anatomy of how that sort of deal can work well for firms considering opening a new office.

Last year we had the opportunity to be part of the team tasked with the exclusive to staff a major office in a major U.S. city. Initially, after identifying and onboarding a few of the key lateral partners, we were asked how we would suggest coordinating rapid hire of as many as 25 or 30 associates. So what was the process for recruiting an entire team? Below I’ve outlined the basic steps we took and a few of the considerations we had during the process.

Step 1:
The office opened with a strong M&A/PE team.  In an initial meeting with the recently added partners and those in charge of hiring, we established the hiring criteria for candidates.  We were asked to focus first on just one practice area (M&A/Private Equity) for the associate build-out, the most pressing need.

We helped the client understand the market for the level of talent they sought. Together, we developed our strategy, which in the case of this particular client necessitated willingness to pay significant cash signing bonuses.

Our first priority was to get as many 1-4 year attorneys as we could to interview. Since the firm had several needs, including the addition of Finance and CAPM Partners, Kinney was able to make contact with 100’s of attorneys nationwide, many of whom were people we already knew.

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Making the Move: Why it’s Better to Use a Legal Recruiter

Some lawyers are best-served beavering away in the firm where they have worked since law school.  For most legal careers, though, there come inflection points where a change of job can open a whole new world of opportunity. Why it’s Better to Use a Legal Recruiter Recognizing whether your career has reached such an inflection point, and then knowing whom to trust to help you in finding that career-expanding opportunity are big tasks. If you find the right legal recruiter though, one with the experience and network to find you the position you need and a personality compatible with yours, it can make a world of difference.

It’s our job to know the ins and outs of the industry. The candidates we work with are busy, so they rely on a us for discretion and advice. From our combined years of experience and hundreds of placements made around the world, we’ve come up with a few reasons as to why getting to know a good legal recruiter and regularly checking in for his or her advice is usually the best thing you can do for yourself.

Expertise
As mentioned above, a recruiter is going to have more inside information to the culture of a firm, hiring trends, salaries and bonuses, than just about anyone.  In some markets, we have literally been asked by firms to help them develop the incentive packages that they offer to associates. We often have a personal relationship with the hiring manager or even the partner doing the hiring. Sometimes we actually placed the partner in his or her job, or convinced him that staying in his job is the right call.  This brings us distinct advantages in the job-search process, including knowledge of the interviewing styles the lawyers use and specific techniques a firm is looking for.

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2014 Lateral Hiring Report: Of Counsel Attorneys

This week we are publishing the third part of our special report on lateral hiring trends in the legal market. In our prior postings we reported on the trends in lateral hiring of law firm partners and associates. This week our attention shifts to lateral hiring for of counsel positions.

These reports are based on market data we have collected on our own over the last five years. As previously mentioned, several general caveats should be noted about our methodology and the scope of the data collection:

  • this report only covers data for the top 200 American law firms;
  • it covers lateral hiring practices in 19 major domestic markets;
  • we collect this data on our own and make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy;
  • the associate numbers in particular may be subject to underreporting (more so than partner lateral hiring) simply due to law firm policy regarding public announcement

Despite these caveats we believe the data available to us and as presented here is directionally accurate as to general market trends. We also make this data available by email subscription (sign up at the bottom of this article).

Of Counsel Lateral Hiring Trends 2010 – 2014

Not surprisingly the 5-year trend for of counsel lateral hiring follows the same general pattern we discussed previously regarding law firm partners and associates. After tailing off sharply in the years immediately following the Great Recession, large law firms gradually resumed a more normal and elevated pace for lateral hiring of counsel positions as shown in the chart below.Total Of Counsel Lateral Hiring

But notice over the course of the last three years how of counsel lateral hiring has held remarkably steady. This is true in the aggregate as well as when we look at the numbers broken down by geographical region or major practice areas; there has been very little variability in the level of counsel hiring from 2012 to 2014. This stands in sharp contrast to the trends we discussed previously for lateral hiring of both partners and associates, where there is considerable variability year over year. Compared to the clocklike regularity with of counsel hiring, partner lateral hiring dropped by 6.4% from 2012 to 2013 and associate lateral hiring fell off by more than 36% from 2013 to 2014.

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London Calling

It’s a great thing when you spin the Wheel of Fortune and your lucky number comes up.  This is exactly the position that qualified mid-level associates find themselves in today now that animal spirits are percolating once again in the legal market.

As we discussed in part 2 of our recently published Lateral Hiring Report – market conditions for mid-level associates have never been more favorable than they are right now due to a dearth of qualified candidates with requisite Big Law firm experience.  You can literally write your ticket to any one of a number of destinations, and take your pick from a broad range of interesting opportunities.

And one of the options you might want to consider is a ticket to London.  A few of us from Kinney Recruiting spent some time there last month and we found that mid-level American associates are in very high demand among the ranks of the Magic Circle firms and beyond.    So this week we wanted to share with you a few things we learned on our trip in case you’re interested in opting for a few years in London as your next prize of the spinning wheel.  Contact one of our recruiters today if you’re interested in learning more.

  • The high-yield debt practice in London is booming and this is a major source of demand for mid-level U.S. law associates. Many of the high-yield deals in London are done in compliance with U.S. law – specifically Rule 144A – so top tier U.K firms have a keen appetite for U.S trained associates with high-yield finance experience.  There are also a number of opportunities with top tier U.S. firms who are active in the London high-yield market.   This experience is highly relevant to the job world on both sides of the Atlantic, so it’s actually a great option for someone who thinks he/she may well want to return to the US eventually.

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2014 Lateral Hiring Report: Law Firm Associates

This week we are issuing the second part of a special report on trends in the 2014 lateral hiring market.

Last week we analyzed the data on lateral hiring of law firm partners. This week our attention shifts to lateral hiring of associates,  which is always a reliable — yet lagging indicator of demand for legal work. The series will conclude with a discussion of lateral hiring for of counsel positions as well as our observations on the distinct hiring strategies taken by various leading law firms.

Our report is based on market data we have collected on our own over the last five years. As mentioned in last week’s post, several general caveats should be noted about our methodology and the scope of the data collection:

  • this report only covers data for the top 200 American law firms;
  • it covers lateral hiring practices in 19 major domestic markets;
  • we collect this data on our own and make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy;
  • the associate numbers in particular may be subject to underreporting (more so than partner lateral hiring) simply due to law firm policy regarding public announcement

Despite these caveats we believe the data available to us and as presented here is directionally accurate as to general market trends. In addition to publishing this annual report, we will be issuing several more detailed regional reports over the course of the year.  We also make this data available by email subscription (sign up at the bottom of this article).

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2014 Lateral Hiring Report: Law Firm Partners

This week we are issuing the first part of a special report on trends in the 2014 lateral hiring market.

While some legal publications assess the state of the legal market health by tracking such metrics as revenue per lawyer and profits per partner, here at Kinney Recruiting we focus on data that illuminates hiring and employment trends among leading U.S. law firms.

This data is an incredibly powerful tool for providing guidance to attorneys and law firms when they are considering making a lateral move. Even for those who are happy with their current practice and have no interest in testing the waters, the insights in this report about overall trends in the legal market should be of interest to practitioners and law firm managers alike. The data clearly show that partner lateral hiring has become an important strategic optionfor the vast majority of big law firms in their pursuit of opportunity and growth.

We’re publishing the report in two parts. This week we’re focusing on lateral hiring trends for partners. Next week we’ll report on trends for associates and of-counsel.

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How to Interview with a Cold Fish

Becoming a lawyer is no easy task. It takes years of hitting the books, late nights of studying through college and law school, followed by months of cramming for the bar exam. And then to actually land a good position in this weak job market – well it’s really no surprise that applications to law school have been in a steep decline ever since the market crash in 2008.

And sometimes the biggest challenge faced by an aspiring lawyer comes at the end of the process – after you’ve landed an interview for the job of your dreams and then you find yourself sitting across the desk, trying to have a conversation with a lawyer who is an exquisitely cold fish.Interview with a cold fish

Let’s face it. Some lawyers are lacking in the social graces – small talk is often not a professional’s forte. And anyone who has interviewed with an old line firm like _____& ______ (fill in the blanks yourselves; we won’t because we probably work for them and have friends there) has surely run into a stuffed shirt or two along the way – an interviewer who seems glum or bored or distracted, bereft of personality and unable to do anything other than make you feel discouraged about your prospects. One friend of mine tells a story about interviewing with a Wall Street firm where the partner actually fell asleep five minutes into the interview, only to be woken several moments later, when the ash fell off the tip of his cigar – this being back in the day when you could still smoke a stogie in your corner office on Maiden Lane.

So as a service to all the job seekers out there this Holiday Season preparing for their next round of interviews, our team of Kinney recruiters has prepared a list of suggestions about what to do if by luck of the draw you end up sitting across from one of those painfully shy or rude partners, whether sleeping or aware, who is having a hard time holding up their end of the conversation. Here’s how to get your cold fish to start talking:

1. Of course with any interview your preparation should begin well before you’re ushered into the room. With a little advance research you can easily learn where your interviewer went to school, how long they’ve been with the firm and with any luck some additional info, such as where they’re from. You can also ask mutual acquaintances, such as a recruiter, or the person who set up the interview, for more insight. With your research complete, you’ll have a few good talking points to use when the conversation hits a lull, as it surely will.

2. When you step into their office take a quick look around. See if there’s a golf trophy, artwork or photos of their family on vacation that you can bring up casually in your conversation. Creating a personal connection is important in any interview but particularly when you’re dealing with a cold fish. One thing you can always count on is that someone with children loves those kids, whether he/she sees them very often or not.

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