These are challenging times for the legal profession — and challenging times in legal recruiting as well. According to a recent survey by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), approximately 70 percent of firms have reduced their lateral associate hiring in the three-month period from March through May, while 40 percent have reduced their lateral partner hiring (compared to the same period last year).
In light of the state of the lateral market, here at Lateral Link we feel very fortunate to be quite busy — so busy, in fact, that we are actually growing as opposed to contracting. Today I’d like to introduce you to one of the newest members of our team: Stephen Damato, a Director based out of our Washington, D.C. office.
I asked Matt Rosenberg — the Principal who manages the D.C. region for Lateral Link, who interviewed many other candidates before hiring Stephen — what he found compelling about Stephen’s background and qualifications.
“I hired Stephen because of his track record of success,” Matt explained. “Stephen graduated from Georgetown Law, cum laude, before practicing at Jones Day and Gunderson Dettmer. In addition, it was important to the growth of our D.C. office to have someone with a corporate/M&A background. We are thrilled Stephen has chosen to join our team, and I believe he will be a very successful recruiter.”
And why did Stephen decide to join Lateral Link? Last week, I interviewed Stephen by phone, and we discussed this among several other subjects.
DL: Hello, Stephen, and welcome to Lateral Link! It’s great to have you aboard. By way of introduction, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
SD: I grew up in Northwest D.C., where my fiancée and I currently live, and I went to high school here too, at Georgetown Day School (GDS). I did my undergraduate work at UPenn, where I studied Spanish and Economics. I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do after graduation, but I had always been interested in law — partly because of the work of my father [Joseph Damato], a partner at Seyfarth Shaw — so I went straight through to law school at Georgetown.
What I enjoyed most at Georgetown Law was getting to know my classmates. I was very social during law school, and I keep in touch with many of my law school friends to this day.
DL: Like many of your classmates, you joined a top law firm after graduating. What practice area did you pick, and why?
SD: I moved up to New York to work for Jones Day, where I focused on mergers and acquisitions. I was drawn to M&A work because of its collaborative aspect. It’s quite social as Biglaw goes, calling on you to work not just with your M&A colleagues but with specialists across a wide range of fields.
I enjoyed getting to know my colleagues at Jones Day, and I really value those relationships on a personal and professional level. And I felt that my approach — treating people with respect, providing thoughtful and practical advice, staying calm, and maintaining a positive outlook — helped make me a successful lawyer.
DL: And then you made a lateral move — good preparation for your new career as a recruiter. What prompted your switch?
SD: My then-girlfriend, now fiancée, got accepted to Harvard Law School, so we decided to move to Boston. I saw the move in cities as an opportunity to explore a different practice area and broaden my corporate practice, so I lateraled to Gunderson Dettmer, where I focused on emerging companies and venture capital (EC/VC) work.
Again, my favorite part of the work was building relationships. Gunderson was also a tremendous place to work, and by nature the deals were smaller, often just me and a partner, so I got to know my clients very well.
DL: Which brings us to today, and your entry into the world of legal recruiting. What has led you to join this industry?
SD: This past spring, after four years in Biglaw, I knew I wanted to come home to D.C., where I grew up. My fiancée and I met here, before we moved to New York and then to Boston, and we knew we wanted to settle down here. And once again, I felt the move in cities was a natural time for a career transition.
I enjoyed my time at both Jones Day and Gunderson, but as I reflected on my career, I realized that the day-to-day work of being a transactional lawyer wasn’t for me over the long term — and that what I found most fulfilling about my time in practice was the building of relationships. So legal recruiting, a field driven by relationships, seemed like a natural fit.
Recruiting would also allow me to leverage my legal training and experience. I went to a great law school, I worked at two wonderful firms in two different practice areas, I had exposure to three different legal markets, and I had lateraled myself. I thoroughly understand the mindset of attorneys in private practice and the considerations that are important when taking stock of one’s career and assessing how to capitalize on development opportunities and pursue future success and happiness. Recruiting would allow me to draw upon all of my knowledge and networks, in a field where I’d enjoy my day-to-day work and be able to add value.
DL: Your thinking makes perfect sense — and explains why so many of Lateral Link’s recruiters have backgrounds like yours. Why did you choose Lateral Link?
SD: I reached out to a number of top search firms, both national and local, and spoke with many recruiters at different places. I had developed relationships with a few recruiters during my time as an associate, which I greatly valued — I found talking to recruiters to be helpful in understanding the market and the opportunities out there — and so I reached back out to them, along with others.
I chose to join Lateral Link for a few different reasons. First, I was drawn to the culture and values of Lateral Link — its emphasis on respect, integrity, diversity, and giving back. Second, I just connected so well with everyone I spoke with at the company; I felt that every single person I spoke with was someone I could trust and enjoy spending time with. Third, I feel very good about the state of the company — how it’s thriving and growing during this challenging time, when many other recruiting firms are retrenching.
DL: Indeed. We feel very fortunate to be doing well right now — and very fortunate to have you join us. Welcome again, Stephen — and I look forward to meeting you in person, hopefully sooner rather than later!
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by David Lat, a Managing Director in the New York office, where he focuses on placing top associates, partners, and partner groups into preeminent law firms around the country.
Lateral Link is one of the top-rated international legal recruiting firms. With over 14 offices worldwide, Lateral Link specializes in placing attorneys at the most prestigious law firms and companies in the world. Managed by former practicing attorneys from top law schools, Lateral Link has a tradition of hiring lawyers to execute the lateral leaps of practicing attorneys. Click here to find out more about us.