Lateral Partner Integration Requires Business Development Plan

How can law firms attract, integrate, and retain top talent across all levels while gaining a competitive advantage?
United States Law Practice Management
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How can law firms attract, integrate, and retain top talent across all levels while gaining a competitive advantage? This is the proverbial question that remains top of mind for recruiters and business development professionals throughout the legal field. It is also a question that Brian Carrozza, Director of Client Development at Goulston & Storrs, Courtney Cook Hudson, Business Development Manager at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, and Megan K. Senese, Co-founder and principal at stage, a women-owned business development and legal marketing firm, addressed in a Bloomberg article focusing on the importance of recruiting, integrating, and retaining talent.

In this three-part series, Brian, Courtney, and Megan have once again partnered with Bloomberg to take a deeper dive into the state of recruiting with a business development/marketing overlay, and what it takes to successfully recruit, integrate, and retain talented laterals.

  • Legal experts explain the keys to lateral partner integration
  • Firms need to develop a business development plan, liaison

When a lateral is hired into a new firm, following the tone set during the recruiting process is essential. The firm needs to ensure the lateral is set up for success on day one. Openness, honesty, and transparency are key.

A 12-month marketing and business development plan should be created as a roadmap for integrating new lateral hires and partnering them with a business development liaison. The assigned liaison should host regular check-in calls and serve as the lateral's initial point of contact for all client development activities.

Setting the Stage

An introductory call between the lateral and their assigned BD liaison should take place prior to their start date or within the first two weeks. This should be the first in a series of integration meetings that take place during the lateral's first year.

The goal of the meeting is to help the lateral understand the resources of the firm, services the marketing and BD department provides (i.e., requests for proposals, pitches, collateral, conference/speaking engagement prep, awards & rankings, bio updates, etc.) and to answer firm questions that may not have been addressed during the recruiting process.

The lateral and liaison should discuss any immediate client needs/opportunities, expectations, what support the lateral needs, and alert clients about the move.

The lateral should walk away from the meeting feeling confident, comfortable, and with a clear path forward.

Read more: Lateral Partner Recruiting Must Focus on Honesty and Clear Data

Introduction and Implementation

The BD liaison must also obtain a fulsome knowledge of the lateral's practice, portable book of business, client targets, and preferred marketing styles. They should ascertain the partner's strengths and weaknesses, as well as business goals and objectives.

The liaison needs to know why the lateral was hired—their niche expertise, specific client needs, and regional presence—to help identify cross-sell opportunities, make appropriate introductions to targeted attorneys within the firm, and plug the lateral into pre-existing client and industry teams. Prioritization should be placed on client-facing activities and the lawyer's strengths.

The new partner's BD liaison should have the same information as the legal recruiting team, which includes the lateral's resume, partner questionnaire, offer letter, and revenue goals. Armed with these resources, the business development liaison is positioned as a part of the firm's long time revenue strategy for the lateral partner, versus as a document producer.

Positioning the BD liaison as a key to the lateral's success at the onset will encourage the partner to engage them in a meaningful way with strategy, innovation, and revenue generating activities for a sustaining practice. This allows the partner to focus on delivering quality legal services, while the BD liaison can focus on collaboratively growing their book of business.

Having a thoughtful, written integration plan is imperative. A written process ensures not only accountability, but gives each lateral the same onboarding experience regardless of which practice group or industry team they sit in.

During each meeting, the liaison should probe the lateral on topics such as satisfaction with the firm, sense of being valued, client growth opportunities, bandwidth and utilization, and cross-selling successes or frustrations. Regular status updates should be provided to firm leadership and other stakeholders. If the lateral flags an issue or perceived roadblock, the liaison should dig deeper to understand the root cause, and work with leadership to course correct.

It's critical that firms not overpromise and underdeliver. For example, a lateral may have been hired to inherit a portfolio that fell through, or perhaps market fluctuations prohibited the opening of a new office that the lateral was intended to join. It's important to keep the lateral's business development liaison informed of these developments so they can monitor follow-though, manage expectations, and help pivot if necessary.

The firm should be clear about their commitments. Conversely, expectations for new partners' client development and relationship building activities, for example, should also be addressed directly.

The most successful laterals are engaged and actively participate in regular integration calls. Holding 90-day reviews that include members of the recruiting team and practice group or department leaders can provide an opportunity for the partner to be heard as well as to receive direct feedback.

Integration Process

Avoid letting new lateral partners fall between the cracks, especially if they're rainmakers or inexperienced business developers, by having a continuity plan that includes the written integration process. The BD liaisons shouldn't work in silos.

Find a collaboration tool that works for the team's communication style and commit to using it. Keep detailed records and have a plan of continued support should the assigned BD liaison leave the firm, or if there is significant recent or impending change happening within the firm, such as a merger or acquisition.

Recruiting and integration don't cease when a merger is on the horizon, and the potential for new laterals to get lost in transition during a major change increases. Firms must adapt their recruiting and integration strategies not only to speak to the newly merged firm's emerging cultural differentiators but also to how laterals will be supported in a fluid environment.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

Reproduced with permission. Published May 17, 2024. Copyright 2024 Bloomberg Industry Group 800-372-1033. For further use please visit

"Having a thoughtful, written integration plan is imperative. A written process ensures not only accountability, but gives each lateral the same onboarding experience regardless of which practice group or industry team they sit in."

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.

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