18 legal headhunters identify the biggest rainmaker moves of 2020, from M&A and IPO pros to regulatory experts

18 legal headhunters identify the biggest rainmaker moves of 2020, from M&A and IPO pros to regulatory experts
Craig Martin, Keith Wofford, Karen Dunn and Edward Lee were all high-profile Big Law partners who made moves in 2020.Willkie Farr; Kirkland & Ellis; Paul Weiss; White & Case; Sylvain Gaboury/Getty; Skye Gould/Insider
  • Legal hiring slowed at the onset of the pandemic, but most law firms resumed hiring by the middle of 2020 and proved they'd still pay good money for prominent lawyers who can bring in big business.

For a high-flying law-firm partner, moving from one firm to another can be risky. The firm a lawyer leaves behind could fight tooth and nail over clients' loyalties, and the new firm may not be the cultural or business fit the lawyer thought it was.

But the risks didn't stop more than 1,700 law-firm partners from moving in 2020, according to data from Leopard Solutions. Despite the pandemic, which ground hiring to a halt in late March, most law firms righted themselves over the summer and resumed searching for good candidates by the fall, and notable moves took place in New York, Silicon Valley, and beyond.

While many firms have expanded their ranks of business-development and client-relations professionals in recent years, hiring so-called lateral partners is a key part of how most firms grow. Michael Ellenhorn, whose company Decipher helps law firms evaluate prospective hires, said partners who moved among the highest-grossing 200 law firms from 2014 through 2018 brought more than $17 billion in business with them, making them the biggest driver of revenue growth.
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Insider spoke with 18 recruiters across the US to gauge the must-know partner moves in 2020, based on whose transitions were likely to have a big effect on the firms they joined or left, and included only those whose significance was mentioned by multiple people. Some partners are reputed to be key rainmakers - having relationships with clients whose legal bills top $10 million per year - while others have special skills that could benefit a firm's existing client base.

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