Living in Virtual Reality: Is Now the Time for Lawyer Moves?

Living in Virtual Reality: Is Now the Time for Lawyer Moves?

Written by Jason Mann, director at leading London partner search and law firm merger boutique Mouland Mann Limited.

It’s late on a weekend evening. Decision time. Signing on the dotted line. A career-defining move for a senior lateral partner, with associates in tow. All the terms of the deal agreed in minute detail. Except that they have never even set foot through those shiny new glass doors in EC1 and have not met a number of their new colleagues in person. How could such a momentous decision be made without at least “pressing the flesh”, smelling the coffee in the meeting rooms, soaking in the historical nuances of the artwork and memorabilia of the corridors?

A situation unthinkable just over six months ago, but one that is becoming virtually the new normal.  Given these unique challenges, as a partner recruiter, I often get asked: “Wouldn’t people be mad to move at the moment?”. I would preface with the following: brokering talks between lateral partners and law firms has carried on throughout lockdown and, in some cases, with increased purpose and momentum. The deeper answer to this question, aside from the obvious ancillary background to the move such as the individual’s push-and-pull factors and how compelling they may be, throws out a number of talking points which I set out below:

  • Will things ever return to the way that they were anyway?
  • What do you actually learn from so many informal meetings?
  • Can people really build a rapport on “Zoom”?
  • How do my team members comfortably migrate over without going for “drinks with the associates”?
  • How do you learn the cultural nuances, the intangibles and the informal anecdotal flavour without seeing everyone in person?

I do not profess to have the answers here, but I am confident based on my own experience as intermediary, that the following are likely to be here to stay:

  • The marathon beauty parade/roadshow that the high-profile lateral needs to undertake can go much quicker from start to finish.
  • The talks are more focussed as the key variables such as cultural fit business case can be covered off in a more disaggregated and streamlined way.
  • The lateral partner is likely to feel more of a burning imperative to undertake proper due diligence on the firm that they are considering joining to compensate for the lack of face-to-face time and less susceptible to being seduced by the superficial charm of the firm courting them.
  • This is likely to also manifest itself in a slicker integration within the new entity and a more comprehensive on-boarding of clients.
  • Firms with a strong strategy and robust financials are now as keen as ever to secure laterals that can be truly accretive, whether by broadening service offering or developing market share in an increasingly competitive trading environment.
  • A local “London to London move” will continue to take on more of the characteristics of a “ReloMove” for all the reasons above, for better or for worse.

Feedback that I have had from all parties (and I appreciate that it’s relatively early days) is giving indications that, whatever the new normal is, the courtship process between Lateral and Firm has undertaken some irreversible changes, and in many ways for the better. The anxious lateral that is on the cusp of crossing over The Rubicon can perhaps do so with more confidence as a result of them – most walk straight past the paintings in the corridor anyway.

For more information, please visit:

Leave A Reply