In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has sparked major changes in the legal industry—from law schools delaying OCI to firms furloughing lawyers and cutting salaries to lawyers and law students working virtually. But how has COVID-19 affected the lateral hiring market? Vault spoke with a group of legal recruiting professionals to find out their thoughts:
Sean Burke - Founding Partner, Whistler Partners
Becca Burke - Managing Director, Whistler Parters
In this first installment of our lateral hiring Q&A, we explore the recruiters’ observations on how the market has been changing in recent weeks, which practice areas are in demand, and how lateral candidates can stand out during this difficult time. Read on for their insights.
Can you share your observations on how the job market has been changing in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak?
Sean Burke and Becca Blank: Observations! Definitely all we can offer is frankly, many employers still don’t know what their numbers will look like for the rest of the year. Honestly, for much of the past couple weeks, employers have mostly either hit the “pause” button for their hiring processes or shifted interviews to video. A portion are in a holding pattern of “wait and see” how things play out, while others are proceeding with caution and looking at longer time lines. This week, we saw more firms announcing definitive hiring freezes.
At the partner level, the deals involving partners who had offers (or were close to getting an offer) are still moving forward.
Have you noticed an increased demand in any practice areas and/or a decreased demand for certain areas?
Sean Burke and Becca Blank: It’s no surprise that firms with bankruptcy and restructuring practices are gearing up in preparation for the inevitable surge of work in this area. In the past week, we have seen new searches open at all levels in this practice area. And, it’s a practice that does lend itself to pivots from certain other corporate and litigation practitioners—those who want to stay busy with sophisticated work over the coming period may want to consider opportunities there.
As for pivoting, Whistler is lucky that we’ve got a couple of great recruiters on the team who are well versed in the practice area to lead our clients’ searches and advise candidates!
Our own Mat Martin was a bankruptcy practitioner himself in his past life, and his father was a federal bankruptcy judge. So when we work on this area, we’re not chasing trends—we actually have existing expertise!
In other areas, Whistler is known for our deep connections in the tech space. While the global economy is on lockdown, tech companies in the business of remote work and streaming are seeing unprecedented highs. Demand for experienced tech transactions lawyers continues to be strong.
Life sciences and health care are obviously right in the center of it as well. Our clients in this industry haven’t slowed their hiring at all. And if the clients are busy, the law firms (and practice areas) representing those clients will remain busy as well.
What can lateral candidates do to make their applications most competitive during this time?
Sean Burke and Becca Blank: It’s always important to stand out regardless of the timing, but it’s especially important these days. Right now, firms are really paying attention only to applications for focused openings. The days of opportunistic hires of general corporate associates without a focused need are behind us. So it’s not only submitting the right application, but submitting the right application for the right job at the right firm. It’s that specific in the current market.
That said, firms are being prudent, but it doesn’t escape them that this is also a time of opportunity to acquire top talent, especially at more senior levels. The answer is, to be most competitive right now, play the right game.
There are still some associate job openings, and not just in bankruptcy. Unlike in-house, where a new hire is thought of on some level as a “cost center,” a law firm hires an attorney to make a profit. If a law firm desperately needs a specialist attorney like a tech transactions mid-level to replace someone who went in-house, they can’t fill that need by switching an attorney from M&A. They will still need to hire someone.
Knowing where hidden opportunities lie is the key here. We’re in the business of information—and we can tell you there are firms who have frozen hiring across the board regardless of who you are, and there are firms who want to hear about rising stars planning for the long term.
Stay tuned for the second installment of our interview with these legal recruiting professionals, including their insights on pursuing a lateral switch now and best practices for video interviewing.
Corporate Counsel (M&A) @ Better.com
Counsel, Legal & Business Affairs @ Global Entertainment Agency
The Fashion Crowd
In House M&A Counsel @ Top Private Equity Fund
In House Without the Pay Cut
Associate General Counsel, Product and Regulatory @ Intersection of FinTech and PropTech
Associate General Counsel @ Late-stage Industry Disruptor
Product Counsel @ Blockchain Platform
Commercial Counsel @ Healthcare Data Startup
Fight Diseases with Data
Director, Legal & Business Affairs @ Digital Entertainment Leader
Corporate Counsel @ Alternative Investment Platform
Deputy General Counsel - Corporate Development & Governance @ Heavy-hitting Unicorn
Commercial AGC @ Iconic Fine Jewelry Brand
Put a Ring On It
Sr. Corporate Counsel @ OwnBackup, high-growth data techco
SaaS in Hypergrowth Mode
1st Legal Hire @ Alpaca - Series B FinTech
M&A Counsel @ Tech-y Venture Capital Fund (Portuguese Speaker)
VC is Heating Up
AGC, Payments Product Counsel @ FinTech "Unicorn"
Parlez vous MTL, KYC, & AML?
M&A Counsel @ Tech-y Venture Capital Fund
Private Funds Counsel @ Private Equity & Venture Capital Group
Break into VC
M&A Transactions Counsel @ Private Equity & Venture Capital Group
The Mathletes of PE
Commercial Counsel @ Video Gaming Unicorn
Ready Player One?
Litigation Counsel @ International Gaming Company
Rarer than Rare
Corporate Counsel, Tech & SaaS @ Social App
Put Yourself Out There
Corporate M&A Counsel @ E-Commerce Unicorn
Data & Product Counsel @ Zocdoc
First Name in Health-Tech
Legal Counsel @ The Hut Group (Beauty & Wellbeing E-Commerce)
Bevy of Beauty
Life Sciences Associate @ Top Startups Firm
The Antidote to Big Pharma
Associate Attorney @ Leading Investment Firm
For the Apex Preditors
Corporate Counsel @ Pharmaceutical Heavy-Weight
Hard Sciences Background not Required
General Counsel @ FinTech SaaS Startup
VP of Legal @ E-Commerce Consumer Lending Platform
Add to Cart
CFIUS Compliance @ Elite Tech Client
More Glamorous than Government
Emerging Companies Associate @ Elite Startup-Focused Firm
Keep EC/VC Weird
Futures Trading Compliance @ Crypto Trading Platform
The Brand Name in Crypto
Switch to FinTech from Finance @ AmLaw 100 Law Firm
Emerging Companies Capital Markets Associate @ Startups Focused Firm
Pivot to Cooler Clients
Senior In-House Counsel @ Digital Health Leader
Not Your Grandma's Healthcare
In-House Commercial Transactions Attorney @ Digital Health Leader
Healthcare Meets Tech
In-House Life Science Corporate Counsel @ Pharmaceutical Company
Future of Pharma
Exclusive: ECVC Associate at Elite Firm's LA Office
Best Partner Opportunity in SoCal
Program Lawyer / Event Content Director @ TechGC
By GCs, For GCs
In-House Corporate Counsel at Venture Fund
VC Meets FinTech
Startup & Media Associate @ Arts & Entertainment-Focused Boutique
Director of Business & Legal @ Media Streaming Company
Privacy Counsel @ International Gaming Company
The Next Big Thing in Gaming
IP & Tech Litigation opp at a Silicon Valley tech Firm
The Move Before You Go In House
Privacy Partner @ Bay Area AmLaw 50 Firm
Plug and Play
Biotech Late Stage/Cap Markets Partner
Use Your Expertise
In-House FinTech Bankruptcy Counsel
Can bankruptcy lawyers go in-house? YES!
Senior In-house Counsel @ Edgy FinTech Shop
The Right Bankruptcy & Reorganization Practice For You
Restructuring Your Own Career
Partner Recruiting Coordinator @ Whistler Partners
The Good Life
New York or Los Angeles