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Hiring lateral partners and groups is a key component of success in today’s competitive law firm market. And while large firms get all the headlines for key coups, smaller firms have both more to gain and lose in recruiting talent. Winning in the lateral market depends on how well you execute in a variety of strategic areas. Here are ways to succeed in some of the more important ones.
Laterals want to join a firm with a strong vision and cohesive culture. But too often, firms build their case for laterals on trite aphorisms such as “We have a collegial culture,” or “This is a great place for someone who’s in the shadows of a big rainmaker.” Instead, you need to look at recruiting talent as a sophisticated marketing exercise, just like efforts geared toward clients.
Too often, firms get sidetracked by “shiny objects” that get presented to them as a target of opportunity. While you should seriously consider these targets of opportunity, you need to consider that efforts put into these opportunities may take energy away from the real needs of the firm.
In the past two years, we’ve seen more firms begin to seek advice on succession planning, given the aging out of the baby boomer generation. This issue is particularly acute for small firms that often rely on one or two rainmakers. Unfortunately, many firms embark on this exercise without really understanding what succession planning is all about. The key objective is to maintain the firm’s existing client relationships, but firms tend to address that problem by hiring someone with a substantial client base of his or her own. Inevitably, the existing clients — feeling forgotten or ignored — go elsewhere.
When hiring new partners, many firms focus too much on the portable book of business that a lawyer will bring and overlook the personal qualities and talent of the individual. The whole concept of “portable business” is largely becoming a myth. In today’s chaotic business world, existing clients are continually being purchased, experiencing turnover in the C-suite (including the general counsel) or slashing their outside counsel budgets. That puts a premium on talent in terms of general legal skill, but also in the ability to attract and maintain clients. Certainly, a business development record is important. But by focusing on so-called portability, firms penalize laterals who are sharing client relationships at their current firm. Isn’t that the exact behavior law firms should be encouraging?
The legal search industry is unlike executive recruiting in a number of ways, and you should do your homework to understand the nuances. On the one hand, law firms need to stay on the radar of as many search firms as possible, since many search firms enter into exclusive relationships with candidates. But on the other hand, you want to cultivate stronger relationships with one or a few search firms that your firm can depend on to both attract and deliver candidates.
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