The Lateral Leap
Properly integrating lateral partners into your firm is critical to their — and your firm’s — success.
Your law firm is on the lookout for new partners, and you’ve decided to do some lateral hires rather than promote internally. Integrating these lateral partners into your law firm takes time, money and extensive training, but the benefits of bringing talented members to your team — not to mention the valuable clients — pay off in the long run.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to effectively onboard these lateral partners. According to a study by ALM Rival Edge, 47 percent of lateral partner hires do not stay a full five years at their firms. Considering that it takes a few years for hires to be trained — and another few years for firms to recoup recruiting costs and compensation-above-contribution — firms are losing money on these hires.
If you carefully plan for the arrival of these hires, ensure they are properly brought into the company, give them a team to guide them and invest time and money in them, you will have a thriving and efficient law firm for years to come. Here are some tips on how to integrate lateral partners.
INTEGRATE RIGHT AFTER HIRING
You don’t want to start integrating your new partners on their first day. Instead, plan ahead and begin the process as soon as you hire.
“Even in interviews, culture and firm focus is discussed,” says Lori Hughes, Lead Operations & Information Security Officer of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP and member of ALA’s Oregon Chapter. “We start the integration process from the moment that the offer is accepted, and we have learned that sometimes that is not enough time, depending on their situation upon leaving their firm.”
GIVE MORE THAN HR POLICIES AND A HANDBOOK
As Hughes notes, it is crucial to go over company culture. Eric Dewey, Principal at Group Dewey Consulting, also believes that communicating culture is important. Instead of just giving the new hires some materials to go over, provide them with a real glimpse into how your firm operates.
“Most firms rely on their hiring agreement and the HR manual to convey expectations to the lateral,” says Dewey. “But those are typically economic expectations and policy mumbo jumbo that the busy onboarding lateral is not likely to read. Left out of the equation too often are critical sociocultural expectations that make up a firm’s culture and that can make or break a lateral’s success.”
“Even in interviews, culture and firm focus is discussed. We start the integration process from the moment that the offer is accepted, and we have learned that sometimes that is not enough time, depending on their situation upon leaving their firm.”
ASSIGN A LATERAL INTEGRATION MANAGER AND TEAM TO THE NEW PARTNER
New hires cannot be left out in the cold and wondering how to properly integrate into the firm on their own. Instead, they need guidance. Showing the lateral partner the ropes of the firm — whether it’s your HR policies, culture, expectations or workflow — should fall into the hands of a team.
According to Hughes, this team will “provide information to the onboarding member(s), including introductions to key stakeholders (e.g., managing partner, key team members, administration); determine technology and training needs and expectations; discuss their experience and expectations of working with support staff; [and] discuss client/matter intake for clear client transitions.”
In addition, Hughes will give the lateral partners the dates for key upcoming events at the firm, as well as cultivate social opportunities for them to meet other staff members and attorneys in their offices and the offices at large.
CONSTANTLY TRAIN YOUR LATERAL PARTNER
You want your lateral partners to gain new skills, fit into your firm and bring their own clients aboard. Providing ongoing training is going to guarantee that it is an easy transition.
“We expect that they will spend their first few days in the office getting connected with the firm and working to move any clients to the firm so that the client experience is as smooth as possible,” says Hughes. “We continue to work on improvement in this area each and every time. Our firm is constantly training and upskilling.”
“Left out of the equation too often are critical sociocultural expectations that make up a firm’s culture and that can make or break a lateral’s success.”
BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR EXPECTATIONS
One lateral partner is going to be completely dissimilar from another, depending on their background, experience and many other factors. Sharon Meit Abrahams, EdD, Director of Professional Development/Diversity & Inclusion at Foley & Lardner LLP, says that every lateral is different, so the integration goals must be adjusted.
“An attorney who joins from the government doesn’t have a list of clients right off the bat, but they should develop a list of prospective clients that the new firm should help them with,” says Abrahams, who is also a member of the South Florida Chapter. “It could take up to two years to see any clients come through the door. Their expected trajectory is very different than an attorney who joined with one or two clients who followed them to the new firm. An attorney with a client base, even a small one, should begin to see positive results within a year.”
ALLOCATE MONEY WHERE IT’S NEEDED
Lateral partners need time and money to transition their clients into the new firm. Give them the resources they require to do this well, says Dewey.
“Laterals will want to visit their clients, bring them swag, dine them, wine them and hopefully sign them. That doesn’t always happen immediately and sometimes requires multiple client visits, client incentives, travel time and the participation of other partners,” says Dewey. “Make sure you’ve allocated enough business development resources to the lateral so they can do what they need to do to get their clients in the door. Make resources available but also manage the time and the firm’s expectations.”
“It could take up to two years to see any clients come through the door. Their expected trajectory is very different than an attorney who joined with one or two clients who followed them to the new firm.
GIVE IT TIME
It may take longer than you expect to fully assimilate your lateral partners. Hughes says their integration usually continues for several months as the hire builds relationships within their firm.
“They may have mentors assigned to help them within their practice team, to engage with other attorneys and staff throughout the firm, and [to navigate] workflow, but they will also develop mentors organically who they choose and who support them through the process. Those development pieces of integration do not happen overnight,” says Hughes.
According to Dewey, it may even take years for the integration to complete. An integration manager should create check-in or progress-reporting deadlines, and there should be people mentoring, coaching and guiding the hire throughout that time.
“Planning for the integration of a new partner is a series of distinct activities and plans which all must be implemented quickly and seamlessly,” Dewey says. “But in all of these plans, strong and consistent communication is the key to the successful integration of lateral partners.”
About the Author
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She covers legal issues, blogs about content marketing, and reports on Jewish topics. She’s been published in Tablet Magazine, NewsCred, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and CMO.com.