Every law firm seeking to add legal talent to its ranks needs to have the people and processes in place to identify and pursue the practice areas that would improve its bottom line, either by allowing the firm to expand its offerings to existing clients or increase its client base with new long-term clients. Firms also need to have due diligence procedures they routinely follow, to minimize their risk and help increase the likelihood that the hire will prove as profitable as they intend.
Both of these aspects of the hiring process are important, and firms are wise to focus and develop detailed plans about how to execute them. But this article is not about either of those. Rather, it attempts to address the question: once a lateral partner or group is identified as desirable, what does the one firm that lands the hire do differently than the other firms who pursued the candidate, but didn’t get him? That is, when a lateral partner is being pursued, why is she attracted to Firm A instead of Firm B?
As a legal recruiter who has worked with many different lateral partners and law firms in the past dozen years, this question has always intrigued me. Partners do not necessarily or always accept the highest offer or the one with the most guarantees. They also focus on intangible factors that are difficult to quantify. They say they chose their new firm because it was the “best fit” or because they “liked its culture.” From my experience, the firms who most often have this said about them tend to do something different during the hiring process. They have an “X Factor” that causes the candidate to believe it’s the best fit and culture for them. The lateral partner believes this due to how the firm has interacted with him throughout the hiring process. They have successfully recruited the partner candidate, which is the X Factor that successful firms implement.
Hiring Requires Recruiting
Most lawyers, for better or worse, are not natural salesmen. So not surprisingly, the biggest mistake law firms make is that they fail to sell. All the firms the partner candidate is visiting with are likely fits as far as size, practice areas, and billing rates. Those factors are easy to identify.
What’s not as easy for the partner candidate to identify is what firm is going to be the best long-term fit for him and his practice? Where will he feel most comfortable and fit in from a personality perspective? Where will he most enjoy his colleagues and going to work every day? Who will most appreciate and value his book of business and clients? The answers to these questions are subjective and dependent upon the impressions made throughout the hiring process. Here is what the prospective firm can do to make sure the impressions your firm makes are more favorable than the other firms the partner candidate is considering.
1. Articulate why your firm is a good platform for the lateral partner
The firm who can make the best case of why their firm will be the best long-term platform for this particular partner and his book of business has the best chance of getting them. If a recruiter was involved in bringing the partner candidate to the firm’s attention, the firm will know well before the first meeting key details about the partner’s practice, as well as the partner’s largest clients and estimated portable business. Those who will be meeting with the partner candidate will thus have time to discuss and determine before the meeting how and why this practice is a good fit for their firm, and how to best present this information to the partner candidate. Participating in this first meeting should be at least one high level administrator or partner with a bird’s eye view of the firm and the ability to explain how their firm could be an ideal platform for this particular partner’s particular book of business.
2. Follow up Is Critical
If an outside recruiter is involved, they should help and coach the law firm about follow up and communication after the initial meeting. Even with an outside recruiter involved, however, this aspect of the hiring process is sometimes underestimated. After the initial meeting, the hiring firm needs to be proactive in making sure it remains at the forefront of the lateral partner’s mind in a positive way. At least two of the partners who the candidate met with should email and/or call her to reiterate how much they enjoyed meeting her and are excited about the prospect of her joining them. They should offer to be a resource for the partner candidate should have any questions along the way. The goal of these interactions is to make the partner candidate feel valued and wanted.
After the process progresses further, it may be appropriate to offer to take the partner candidate and her spouse out to dinner, along with a couple of other partners and their spouses. Such social interactions provide the candidate’s spouse a glimpse into and feel of the firm, which shouldn’t be underestimated since a spouse’s input into the decision-making process is often critical, even though completely behind the scenes. Ideally, the partners who host this dinner will be key members of the lateral partner’s section or a part of the team that would help support the lateral partner’s candidates in the future.
3. Stay in Touch until Offer is Accepted
If an offer is extended and the partner candidate is considering it, the managing partner of the firm (or hiring partner, as appropriate) should stay in touch with the partner candidate and communicate with him or her on a regular basis until a decision is reached. Not only does this gesture let the candidate know that he is valued, but it also allows the firm to be aware of, and therefore to address, any new concerns that might have arisen in the lateral partner’s mind.
These small but personal touches make a world of difference in the partner candidate’s perception of the firm and their interest in going there. In fact, I’ve seen partners take less compensation from a firm where they feel needed and wanted over another firm where the compensation is sure to be higher. Just as in any relationship, every human being has a need to be desired and appreciated. A few encouraging words from key partners in the hiring firm, not only after the first meeting but throughout the process, can make all the difference.
Although law firms are filled with some of the smartest and best educated professionals around, many fail to recognize the critical factor they have total control over during the hiring process – their ability to recruit the desired candidate. A lateral partner considers more than just dollars when deciding what firm to join. Other, more subjective factors are given equal if not more weight. Knowing that their practice fits well into the firm’s long-term plan, feeling personally valued and comfortable with the prospective firm, and getting buy-in from the candidate’s spouse are just as important as the dollar amount of the offer, if not more so. All of these are part of the recruiting of a candidate. Firms that recognize this X Factor and make a conscious decision to recruit have a distinct advantage when trying to hire the lateral partners they desire.