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Lateral Interviews


Lateral interviews are generally more comprehensive and thorough than interviews for summer associate positions. The reason for this is the employer's need to scrutinize lateral applicants. Employers are much more cautious when interviewing laterals because they cannot hire them on a trial basis. Rather, they must make long-term hiring decisions with limited time and information.

Furthermore, most candidates who interview for lateral positions do so while still working for their current employers. They do not want to advertise the fact that they are interviewing. This presents an additional challenge for potential employers, who must honor the candidate's request to keep his or her application confidential. Consequently, potential employers cannot ask everyone in town for feedback about the candidate; instead, they must be careful not to impact the candidate's current job status.

A law firm will run thorough background check before they hire you as a lateral. They will probably know your credit score and debt status better than you do. From criminal background checks and credit reports to reference checks, law firms take lateral interviews very seriously. Sometimes too seriously, it seems.

In Howard's example, the firm where he interviewed for a lateral position asked him to fill out a 20-page questionnaire. He then signed a waiver for a background check, which generated a 30-page report from every state, city, and county where he had ever lived. The background check results also reproduced Howard's credit history, including his current debt. To check references, the firm sent an e-mail to every single attorney in its 120-person office, asking if they had any information about the candidate. Granted, the e-mail indicated that this information was strictly confidential; but of course the old firm found out. Fortunately for Howard, he received an offer from the new firm right before an unpleasant conversation with his old employer. But the process was nerve wracking.

Your lateral interviewing experience may be a bit different if you are working with a headhunter. See our chapter “Using a Headhunter” for an in-depth discussion of this subject. Firms usually trust the headhunters to do all the groundwork, and you may not even be asked for references if you are applying through a recruiter. But, in any event, be prepared.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw Job InterviewsLateral Interviews - Are You Ready?, Logistics, Scrutiny, Checking References, Know Your Reasons For Interviewing, Discussions About Specialty