Anamika Roy//April 12, 2018
//April 12, 2018
Attorneys’ desire to serve their clients and build their books of business often leads them to look for opportunities outside their law firms. But while such a job move was usually sweetened with a promotion in years’ past, more lawyers are making a move without necessarily climbing up the corporate ladder.
“Anecdotally, we are seeing an increase in attorneys at all levels looking to make lateral moves,” said Randi Lewis, managing director of the law firm practice group at Major, Lindsey and Africa. “Law firms in Baltimore are making a lot of lateral hires and that includes mid-level to senior associates and partners with books of business.”
Approximately 175 lawyers in Maryland made a lateral move to another firm in the state since last March, according to data from ALM, the parent company of the National Law Journal and Law.com. That’s up from 154 lateral moves between March 2015 and March 2016 and 100 moves between March 2013 and 2014.
Some of the reasons lawyers change firms – compensation, the health of the business and location –are not unique to the practice of law. But other reasons that have lawyers moving firms at higher rates than normal point to shifts in legal industry.
Take the recent decision of 23 lawyers from Miles & Stockbridge PC in Baltimore to move around the corner to open a local office for South Carolina-based Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP.
“The practice of law is changing and larger clients want to consolidate legal work to one or fewer firms,” said Timothy A. Hodge, formerly a partner at Miles & Stockbridge and now office managing partner at Nelson Mullins’ Baltimore office. “That’s driving the growth of a firm like Nelson Mullins.”
Nelson Mullins has 18 offices across the country, primarily along the East Coast and in Denver and Los Angeles.
“These days, lawyers have books of business and the legal pie is not necessary growing in terms of being able to garner legal work from companies,” Hodge said.
“The opportunity to work at a firm that had a great deal of reach across the country and depth in certain practice areas were important for us as lawyers,” he continued. “All of us saw Nelson Mullins as a great opportunity to us to give a broader reach.”
Michael A. Brown also left Miles & Stockbridge to lead Nelson Mullins’ litigation team. Brown told The Daily Record in February he has worked well with partners at Nelson Mullins in the past.
“Over the last decade, their litigation practice has grown into a top-tier department working on bet-the-company matters for clients, and I am quite pleased to join such a strong firm with a national litigation infrastructure,” he said. “I’m sure my clients will benefit from the resources that will be available to us.”
Rate pressure is another reason attorneys, partners in particular, may want to move to another firm. Some large firms’ billing rates alienate clients, while on the other hand, sometimes partners may want to move to a firm that will let them increase their rates, Lewis said.
In other cases, it can be a natural progression of a partner’s relationship with a firm.
“Sometimes people leave because the firm has outgrown the partner and perhaps the partner has been told directly, or infers, that that partner’s clients just aren’t right for the firm anymore,” Lewis said.
Lateral moves come up even within local firms – and not everyone is looking for a bigger shop.
Last April, four established Baltimore attorneys moved together from Offit Kurman to Wright, Constable & Skeen LLP, in search for a smaller firm that would offer more opportunities for them to grow their practices.
Laura Rubenstein, Douglas H. Seitz, Max S. Stadfeld and Donald J. Walsh said they liked Wright Constable was small enough for lots of interaction among lawyers and client referrals to lawyers within the firm.
“It gives us a lot of breadth,” Walsh said. “Clients feel comfortable at a firm of this size.”
The four attorneys also participate in management decisions at their new home.
“It’s nice to have a stronger say in the direction of the firm,” Rubenstein said.
Similar opportunities may come up for Maryland attorneys in the future, Lewis said, especially in the Baltimore area
“Baltimore is geographically is an interesting location for certain firms. It’s between New York and D.C. so you could see firms that have D.C., Philadelphia and New York offices deciding to open strategically in Baltimore to capture more of that mid-Atlantic market,” she said.
But those movements shouldn’t alarm regional firms, Lewis added.
“If attorneys are going to leave, they’re going to leave anyway,” she said. They’re going somewhere. But then other lawyers will be interested in going to that firm” to fill those open positions.
“This is not the end of the regional firm in any way,” sht