Ask the Experts
Question: A partner from a local firm is joining our practice in a few weeks. It’s been several years since we hired a senior lateral attorney, and, honestly, it didn’t go so well the last time we did. Can you give some good tips on integrating a new lateral hire into our firm?
Henry Angelino: Hiring a new partner is a big decision and a big financial investment for a law firm. The upside is that new partners can bring exciting opportunities to the firm through their expertise and talents. The downside is that they will start earning a salary from day one and may not produce any revenue for up to 90 days. So the integration of a new partner should not be left up to chance.
Planning and preparation can minimize the stress of a transition and make the new partner feel welcome, in addition to speeding up the process of making the person a profitable member of the team. In the U.S. Navy, I learned that properly integrating new members of the crew drastically increased their likelihood of success. Applying some of those best practices I learned, at Higgs Fletcher & Mack we use a three-phase approach for integrating new attorneys.
- Prior to arrival. A sponsor is assigned to assist the new attorney with the transition. The sponsor is typically of the same seniority and located near the new partner’s office. An email is sent to the entire firm and our public relations team announcing the arrival of the new partner, who their sponsor is and where the new partner’s office is located. The email also includes the new partner’s resume. Additionally, a new employee paperwork packet is sent to new attorneys to allow them time to complete required administrative paperwork prior to their arrival.
- Upon arrival. Each new attorney is welcomed by the firm’s executive director and IT trainer. The IT trainer conducts indoctrination training on the firm’s computer and phone systems and ensures the new attorney’s email and voice mail are up and running, familiarizes the new attorney with the location of administrative centers, and makes introductions to critical staff members, including the new attorney’s secretary. The new attorney is then linked up with his or her sponsor for lunch with several other firm attorneys. This is an opportunity to start building the new attorney’s internal marketing network beyond the lawyers met during the hiring process. Human resources and accounting indoctrination is conducted after lunch.
- After arrival. Various opportunities continue the integration into the firm and build the new attorney’s internal and external networks. Getting new matters opened promptly is a critical step in the transition process, and may require assigning additional secretaries. Introducing the new partner at practice group meetings, attorney lunches and dinners, training sessions and firm functions, and to the firm’s business connections and clients, is a good way to ensure other attorneys and professionals are aware of the partner’s areas of expertise. A formal press release and announcement also helps make sure the new partner’s professional network — and the business community as a whole — knows of the person’s arrival, background and practice areas.
Henry Angelino joined Higgs Fletcher & Mack in July 2010 and became a member of the San Diego Chapter of the ALA. He served on the Board of Directors and various committees while Higgs strategically expanded from 58 to 73 attorneys, adding new practice areas and positioning the firm for the future. He understands the dynamic nature of the legal industry and currently manages a staff of 67 professionals.
James Cornell: Helping lateral-hire lawyers feel welcome and comfortable is an important step in their long-term success, and it helps ensure they achieve the goals that the firm has for them. This process should begin shortly after the offer is accepted, and before the new lawyer’s first day. Here are a few tips.
- Ask the firm’s leadership and lawyers in the new lawyer’s section to reach out to welcome and congratulate the new hire on joining the firm. Circulation of a personal email address is a simple and powerful tool for getting the relationship started off well.
- Have the firm’s administrator or director of human resources reach out to introduce themselves. Consider these staff members as go-to resources for the lateral hire as they plan the lawyer’s transition.
- Thoroughly clean and consider painting the lawyer’s office so it feels fresh and thoughtfully prepared. Remember to clean the unidentifiable gunk on the telephone handset, because no one wants to answer a call and have that surprise!
- Consider sending insurance enrollment and on-boarding paperwork to your new lawyers ahead of time so they don’t have to wade through mounds of information on their first day. This way, they can arrive prepared with questions regarding the firm’s benefits, 401(k) plan and the like.
- Carve out specific and significant time on their first day for training on the firm’s computer, phone and copier/scanning systems. This will help new hires feel prepared when they are asked to begin working on a project.
- Have lawyers lined up in advance to take the new lawyer to lunch on the first day.
- Arrange an orientation tour of the office and the firm’s departments. Ask each staff manager to meet with the new lawyer and explain their department functions and the resources they provide.
- Consider hosting a happy hour reception or coffee meet-and-greet for the new lawyer and his or her significant other. This is an excellent opportunity for the new lawyer to meet other firm lawyers and staff members.
- Encourage the new lawyer to go to lunch with every lawyer in the firm over the first 6 to 12 months. This allows the lawyers to learn about each other’s practice areas, along with their personal interests, which fosters connectivity and collegiality.
- Assist the new lawyer with creating a marketing and business development plan and also consider arranging meetings with strategic firm clients so they are aware of the new expertise the firm has gained with the addition of the new lawyer.
Remember that being the new kid on the block isn’t easy. Making a positive, thoughtful impression on their first day will affirm to lateral hires that they made a good decision in joining your firm.
James L. Cornell is a wannabe mountain man, live music aficionado and Executive Director for Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, P.C. in Austin, Texas. James, an active member of the ALA, believes that when lawyers and law firm professionals work together to service the needs of the firm’s clients above all else, the amount of good that can be achieved is limitless.
Robin Weis: This is a timely question considering all the lateral movement we are seeing in the market. First, expect to surrender the better part of a week to orientation. Investing in your hire at the start will pay dividends in the long run. If you don’t have one in place, you might want to consider a robust orientation program that will afford your lateral hire a solid foundation. Here are some pointers.
- Assign support staff right away so the new lawyer will have someone who can facilitate client file transfers and scheduling, as well as contributing some general guidance.
- A formal or informal mentor program will help acclimate the lateral hire to your firm’s culture and business philosophy as well as assist in managing expectations.
- Update your website and letterhead to include the new lawyer and order business cards.
- Strategically publicize the announcement of the lawyer joining your firm in the appropriate newspapers, trade journals and among local and state bar associations.
- Does your firm have a strategic plan? If so, the lateral hire should have been tested against that plan in advance, and you will want to incorporate the lateral hire into the plan. Discussing the plan with the lateral before and after the hire will ensure engagement and understanding and may even provide new insight from a fresh perspective that will complement your plan.
- When you hire a lateral, you are hiring experience, so you should promote his or her knowledge. Consider including him or her in an appropriate CLE or seminar your firm may be hosting. It’s a great way to help the new hire build credibility on behalf of the firm.
- Take the time to introduce the new lawyer to key clients of the firm, and likewise introduce the firm to clients your lateral hire will be bringing along. This is a great time to host an open house to promote interest in your firm!
- Finally, if you want to build loyalty and collegial respect, hold a welcoming social. Introduce the firm to the new lawyer in a relaxed atmosphere. Likewise, attorneys who will be working with the new lawyer would be wise to hold a few social events that include families or significant others.
Robin Weis is Director of Client Services for Koley Jessen in Omaha, Neb., where she manages the firm’s legal administrative assistants, paralegals, summer associates and library/resource team, in addition to supporting the Recruiting and Space Planning committees. She is Vice-President of the Nebraska ALA chapter.
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