Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

Articles: Strategic Business Development Archives

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Integrating A New Practice Into The Firm

In a continual effort to differentiate themselves from the competition and increase revenues, many law firms are actively seeking to add practice areas or specialty groups. It should be obvious that without close integration of new specialty groups, a firm forfeits some of the advantages of adding them in the first place. Managing partners of firms that have successfully achieved new practice area integration say that there never can be too much. Integration has two parts: the internal, which should come first; and outreach to clients and the public (marketplace).

Internal Integration

The steps include:
  • Reassure long-time firm members.

Surface and deal with concerns that the status of existing practices, partners or associates will be threatened by bringing in new blood.

  • Integrate practices and staffs.

Physical location is an important element. Office assignments may need to be shifted. Face-to-face contact in the early stages is crucial, supplemented by internal communication media such as e-mail, newsletters and memos. Staffs should be assigned to work together, as their cooperation will ease the way for the lawyers and prevent "ghettoization" of the recent arrivals.

  • Assign "buddies" to the new people.

Give each partner, associate and staff person a counterpart to go to with questions, The buddy should also introduce each new person to others in the firm as well as to formal procedures and "the way we do things here." Encourage frequent contact, and keep the buddy system in operation for six months.

  • Formally charge one person with the responsibility of being the integrator or ombudsman.

Otherwise too much of the integration process will tend to be neglected or fall through the cracks. Likely candidates for this role are: the marketing director, the firm administrator, the recruiting director or human resource director. In any case, the managing partner or a member of senior management should be closely involved as should the marketing director, if the firm has one. Internal, as well as external, marketing will be necessary to make the integration and cross-selling a success.

  • Conduct presentations for partners and associates.

Schedule a formal series of presentations of the capabilities and accomplishments of the new lawyers as well as that of existing practice groups. Ask each 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.

External Focus

  • Make clients comfortable.

s 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 partner 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.

  • Publicity.

Announcements, professional announcement ads, and press releases comprise the publicity basics. More effective to make a lasting impression on clients, targeted prospective clients and referral sources is to 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.

Firms that select a potentially lucrative specialized area to expand into, compatible with their existing practice, often build the "critical mass" necessary to attract clients and credibly deliver those services by bringing in an entire department from the outside. Growing the new expertise in-house, with young associate lawyers, can be difficult and a long process.

When an entire department is added to a firm, the new lawyers will be difficult to assimilate unless the firm makes a concerted effort to integrate them into all facets of the firm's governance and social milieu from the beginning. Clients are sensitive to internal tensions and will not accept the new department as an integral part of the firm unless the attorneys in the firm clearly do so.

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 ot 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.

Whether the new specialty results from a strategic decision or an unplanned opportunity, communication is the key to acceptance, integration, and success. When existing firm members redirect their practices from a slow area to one that has greater potential, they need to be supported by additional, clear communications to change their colleagues' already ingrained perceptions of what they do. This aspect is often overlooked - the attention going primarily to new additions. However, people tend to keep fixed notions of others in their minds once initial impressions are made. It takes a serious, ongoing communications effort to change partners' perceptions, to maintain awareness that an aviation lawyer is now a labor lawyer, for example.

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 as well as to building up-to-date perceptions of the capabilities of firm partners and associates who have shifted their practices to a new area. Your firm will only be able to maximize the benefits of the new practice if it makes real integration a high priority.


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 1995.