Although partner hiring is a popular growth strategy, lateral integration is proving to be a challenge for many law firms. While it’s no panacea, evidence suggests that a well-executed implementation will deliver the intended revenue boost. It’s the performance that makes the difference.
With so much interest in the strategy of lateral partner recruitment, it’s ironic that success rates are actually quite low. Recent survey results indicate that original expectations are not being met on either side. However, during a LEAF (Legal Administrators & Executive Forum) meeting sponsored by KMS Associates, one administrator’s 80% success rate is illustrative, outpacing other firms by adopting a comprehensive methodology. It appears that this firm holistically managed the process from strategy, recruiting, and selecting, through onboarding, strategic launch, and a keen focus on new partner retention.
Acquiring a well-vetted partner to fill a specific and strategic need is wise, however, “growth for growth’s sake is not a viable strategy in today’s legal market” according to the 2014 Georgetown Reuters Peer Monitor Report on the State of the Legal Market. When it comes to growth, the goal for most firms should be to build a better boat rather than a bigger one. “The real point is that a particular firm’s decision to grow should be made in the context of a clear strategic vision of a market segment that the firm can realistically expect to serve.”
What does the “doing” look like to obtain success in lateral partner hiring and integration? The first place to start is by building a committee, combining the recruitment and integration process with key personnel—partners, administrators, and appropriate members from HR, Marketing & Business Development, Professional Development, and Information Services. Including representatives from multiple offices leads to greater unification and may add value to obtaining goals. Secondly, clarify the hiring strategy, identify the specifications of attorneys or target practice groups and eliminate the time-wasters—casting too wide a net and utilizing an unstructured interview. Preselected behavioral questions can offer consistency across applicants for the performance potential and personality fit. Since a high percentage of failure for senior-level people is due to personality issues versus capability factors, it is critical to understand as well how the personality will fit with the firm. Communicating the expectations on both sides and reviewing the business plan are also key elements in the interview process.
Changing one’s place of employment can be highly stressful, as an attorney can lose as much as 50 % of their support system upon showing up on the first day, so demonstrating to a new lateral that he/she is secure and accepted encompasses a well thought out and effective program.
A priority in the orientation process is one that lends itself to immediate communication with new lawyers, clients, and contacts: collecting the lateral partners’ contact data into the CRM prior to their start date; getting the new partner assigned to existing matters, and existing client service teams or if they represent a new practice area assimilate them into client service teams and learn whether they served in leadership roles on internal committees and arrange for them to be involved. Consider assigning the attorney(s) with a seasoned secretary who knows how to clear billing issues with clients and facilitate utilizing the systems.
Launching a comprehensive marketing strategy early is essential.
- Announcements to the media and clients.
- Getting partners out with clients and other offices, quickly combining new and legacy lawyers
- Identifying the marketing and business development plans that had been in place to either bolster the program or develop strategic plans.
- Celebrate the laterals’ arrival and include significant others—it is a transition for the family as well.
Continued retention of laterals includes follow-up and possibly rescue. Maintaining regular and periodic contact that is organized and tracked for the first several months can offer a “reality” check, identify problems and solutions as well as send a message that you care. A leadership-driven strategy is to bring in a “transition” partner to handle overall satisfaction from both the client and lateral perspectives. An unhappy partner or one who is failing can be a complicated, complex, and expensive process. Having a designated leader with the skills to be trusted and effective in addressing issues may set the stage for a turnaround.
While developing or evaluating a lateral integration program, surveys demonstrate the number one reason partners leave is due to a lack of support. Also, full integration can take 1-2 years. If you have correctly selected the right person or group, failure may more often point to weak links in the launch and best practices—not the lateral.