When law firms consider lateral hiring, most see it as a way to add niche expertise and management experience while bringing in new clients. However, according to a recent survey by Decipher Investigative Intelligence and ALM Intelligence, nearly half of the respondents indicated that the majority of their firm's laterals underperform when it comes to bringing their stated books of business. Therefore, firms need to carefully consider the need for lateral hires, as the costs of bringing them on can be high.
MAKING THE DECISION
As attorneys retire or leave your firm, look closely for any gaps. Do you really need to hire a new lawyer or can you redistribute the work?
If instead you are hiring to expand your offerings, be sure to articulate and quantify your expectations. Do you want the attorney to bring a book of business and contribute to increasing firm revenues within a set time of his or her hire? If so, be sure that your expectations are realistic and that you provide the resources the lateral hire will need to meet these objectives (such as administrative staff and a marketing budget).
Do not forget to consider what you can offer a lateral hire. Compensation is important, but candidates also want to know how working for your firm will contribute to their professional development and affect their personal lives. Will you be able to deliver on any promises — such as a committee chair or flexible work hours — that you make at the recruiting stage?
MENTORING LATERAL HIRES
Failure to quickly assimilate lateral hires into the business and culture of your firm can easily lead to premature departures and lost clients. In fact, the integration period is when most firms win or lose their lateral hires.
Assign a mentor or sponsor — such as a practice group leader or senior partner — to guide your lateral hire through the first year at your firm. Experienced partners can help new hires get to know colleagues — particularly those with similar interests — and meet existing clients and learn about their needs. Working together with human resources, mentors can help laterals publicize their move and market their services, learn the firm's processes and technology solutions and resolve conflicts or problems.
For lateral hires who bring clients with them, sponsors need to do everything they can to ensure these clients become clients of the firm. Although the vetting process likely started at the recruiting stage, sponsors should help new hires review their client books for any conflicts of interest or liability issues — as well as cross-marketing opportunities.
The job of sponsor can be demanding. Consider incentivizing your sponsors so that they feel responsible for the lateral hires' smooth integration and professional well-being.
FITTING IN WITH FIRM CULTURE
The best advice for retaining lateral hires applies to all of your attorneys: Create a healthy work environment. This starts by promoting teamwork, open communication, professional development opportunities and recognition — financial and otherwise.
Cultural fit is one of the most important decisions a hiring firm can make. In a Thomson Reuters analysis of lateral candidates, cultural fit was a top issue, with 68% of red flag candidates surfacing some behavioral concern.
Lateral hires that fail to fit in culturally may sour the relationship despite the candidate's legal skills and business acumen. According to the Decipher/ALM survey, 29% of respondents said lateral partners left because of cultural fit issues with other partners.
You can increase loyalty to your firm by helping lawyers balance their work with personal interests and obligations. Offer flexible and part-time hours — even for partners — and the ability to telecommute, plus benefits such as child care.
Law firms looking to expand will need to use lateral hires. Doing so successfully requires realistic expectations and smooth assimilation. Using some of the best practices presented here can help your firm succeed.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.