Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

Articles: Organizational Effectiveness Archives

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Creating the Environment for Laterals to Thrive

The law firm recruiting world certainly has changed! Now approximately 40 percent of partners come to firms as lateral hires. In 1983, when I conducted a survey of lateral hiring for Martindale-Hubbell, there were virtually no partner laterals, most firms resisted admitting they were recruiting lateral associates, and in truth, most of them did not hire even associates, that way.

By the mid-nineties, lateral hiring of partners has become a primary marketing strategy for, perhaps, too many firms. The theory is: “We'll bring in some partners with their own client base or contact base, and they'll help us cross-sell and drop revenue to the bottom line.” But it backfires if the firm doesn't follow through with support to integrate and market the group or individual practice as a valued asset.

A late 1996 survey by the New York office of search firm Major, Hagen & Africa of lateral partner satisfaction revealed that on average, their law firms' potential to support and expand their practice proved to be the least satisfactory to the lateral partners of the factors cited in the survey. Yet that was the third most important factor to them on choosing a firm after “culture and reputation” and the “firm's financial health.” Firms have been less than effective in their ability to cross-sell laterals' services to their clients, according to the survey responses.

Without close integration and effective marketing of lateral individuals or groups, a firm forfeits a good deal of the benefit of adding them in the first place. What can they do to capitalize on the synergy and enhance the laterals' productivity and satisfaction?

Plan Early

To do that requires: a focus on internal communications – early and often; a clear message of value to clients, referral sources and the public; and visible, tangible support from management, partners and staff. Laterally acquired partners judge the hospitality and depth of commitment of their new firms by:

  • How widespread introductions to other partners throughout the firm are at the courting stage and after;
  • How early the integrating process starts;
  • How the firm publicizes the capabilities of the new arrivals;
  • How many partners initiate cross-selling; and
  • How welcoming and helpful staff and administrative people are.

Planning should begin even before the acquisition is definite so that action can be taken immediately. The internal focus is as important as the external one in the early stages; building familiarity and comfort level between laterals and longer tenured attorneys and staff and integrating the people and practices is a necessary foundation for marketing support and cross-selling. Here are some tips:

  • Plan for integration during the negotiation stage, and involve marketing professionals (in confidence) as soon as talks get very serious.
  • Get announcements out promptly, especially to clients and referral sources.
  • Go overboard on briefings and communication. Be clear about where laterals at all levels can go for help and information. Consider a “buddy system.” Keep up the heavy communication and attention for at least six months.
  • Plan informal and more formal social occasions, a few of which involve the lateral's family. Have welcoming lunches and cocktail parties. Invite clients and the laterals' clients.
  • Intersperse lateral and existing lawyers' offices to ensure day-to-day meeting. Mix up working groups to foster interaction.
  • Put the new lateral partners on firm committees early on so they are given firmwide responsibilities and will interact with long tenured partners.
  • Seek laterals' input on firm decisions, since they can bring fresh ideas and perspective on what has or hasn't worked elsewhere.
  • Harness the lateral's energy. Use the new burst of enthusiasm to motivate and reinvigorate the existing ranks.

Specifically relating to marketing, keep the information flowing with formal presentations for both partners and associates. Schedule a formal series of presentations of the capabilities and accomplishments of the new lawyers as well as to of existing practice groups. Ask each presenter to suggest opportunities for cross-selling as well as to state the help and support they desire. The process of preparing and making these presentations every time new expertise is added will have an added benefit: the firm will be kept up-to-date on new developments and capabilities firmwide and will have a forum for requesting help.

Focus on Clients First

The external effort should focus first on clients and then general publicity. Make clients comfortable. As soon as the firm can go public with word of the new practice area, clients should be informed in as personal a way as possible. Beyond the typical announcements, clients should get phone calls or at least a personal letter from the attorney they work with most or the senior partners on their matters to tell them about the new practice and the people brought in. If possible, personal introductions should be set up. If a group of lawyers is acquired from another firm, it is important to make clients comfortable with the addition and see the benefit to them.

Announcements, professional announcements ads, and press releases comprise the publicity basics. To make a lasting impression on clients, targeted prospective clients and referral sources, involve the new practice area lawyers with others in the firm to present seminars or undertake other joint activities that will "integrate" the new practice and lawyers as part of the firm in the public perception.

Communication Problems to Overcome

When a lateral is brought in to add a new service, there is often insufficient communication to either other partners or to existing clients as to how the new service would be useful to clients. Occasionally there is even resistance to the creation of any strategy that would familiarize the client base with the new practice. This is short-sighted. Some partners may want to “protect their clients” from others who are not well known to them. However, if introductions and cross-selling are not part of the business and marketing strategy, there is no sense in making the practice part of the firm. It will simply be an expense and an emotional drain.

Frequent reminders of what the partners are doing will help to sustain awareness. An internal newsletter is often a useful vehicle, as well as memos and periodic presentations. Good internal communications of all sorts are key to integrating a laterally added group or individual.

The equation for making lateral partner additions work to the benefit of both the new partners and the firm is a combination of chemistry and strategy. Both the new and the existing partners must have a commitment to it and participate actively in the integration process as well as the cross-selling.


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 1997.