Law firm: Grow your own or lateral hire?

By RedLaw | 01 Mar, 2016

However ambitious your law firm growth strategy is, it will be based upon building a team of the right legal experts. It’s not surprising then that the search for talent takes numerous forms. In recent years, the lateral hiring of partners and practice teams by law firms has become commonplace, providing an important supplement to the development of home grown talent.  So how should firms assess the relative merits of each option?

According to Amy Hambleton, Director at legal recruitment specialists RedLaw advises, “At the outset, a choice between making an internal promotion or the appointment of a lateral hire should be part of a clear assessment of the firm’s overall objectives. Questions to be addressed include what goals the appointment will serve, whether these are borne out by client perceptions on how their needs may be better served by the firm, and how others in the firm will be affected.”

Building a team organically remains an attractive option for many firms intent on broadening and strengthening their offering. Home grown talents are known quantities, already familiar with colleagues and clients, and culturally aligned to the firm.  The promotion of lawyers from within can promote loyalty within a firm, encouraging the aspirations of others within its ranks.

Other factors though continue to drive the appetite for lateral hires. Vacancies within a firm may need to be filled but most often, lateral hires play a key role in a firm’s growth strategy.  Through lateral hires, firms can secure additional experience and expertise and ideally a number of new clients.  The right candidate will enable a firm to bolster existing practice groups, add new fields of practice and expand their geographical reach.

Given that they involve a significant investment, lateral hires need special planning.  Having a team dedicated to the hire and integration can promote an ordered search, united in what it is looking for and creating a strong impression to reassure candidates as well as the all-important bedding-in process.  Your law firm recruitment consultant and the internal team members should work together to identify what qualities and track records candidates need to possess and whether they should include attributes such as leadership and rainmaking skills.  Which due diligence checks should be conducted will also need to be decided.  For lateral hires the desired ‘soft’ issues, like personality and compatibility with the firm’s culture, will need to be assessed carefully.

External advice will be helpful on matters like compensation, particularly if a candidate is currently part of a different reward system.  A candidate’s client following and how portable it is, will underlie an assessment of the affordability and likely return of the investment.

Law firms are the best placed to avoid the legal pitfalls associated with lateral hires, including employment and partnership issues.  But these need to be addressed early along with the question of what firm information candidates may be given.

Looking forward, thought needs to be given to how lateral hires and their clients can best be welcomed into the firm and the firm’s track record in doing so. Focusing on how the long term integration of lateral hires and their clients will be achieved should help ensure the on-going durability of the relationship.

For most firms, a successful growth strategy will require a blend of organic growth and lateral hiring over the long-term strategy.

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