The Lateral Attorney Transition: Two Tips to Make Your Next Hire a Good One

Before you start the lateral attorney transition process, call legal business development expert Steve Fretzin at 312-981-0119 for help with your strategy.

Anyone in the legal community knows that a popular method for growing business is to acquire laterals – successful attorneys who already have built a significant book of business. The idea is simple and straightforward: find a lawyer or group of lawyers with millions in business and acquire the business they control.

This is a proven approach that can and does help corporations expand exponentially, but how can you ensure you’ll have a successful lateral attorney transition?  

Unfortunately, I can say from my 20-plus years of experience in recruiting, business and sales, that many law firms make two substantial mistakes when adding laterals to their firms, which can greatly hinder the success of the firm and the newly hired attorney.

First, the firms don’t properly identify, interview and select the best fit candidates. And secondly, there’s no specific onboarding process to ensure a successful lateral attorney transition.  When added together, many firms are bringing in the wrong people from the get-go or finding the right people who are left on their own to figure things out.

As the popular saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

The good news is that I have two simple tips to share that law firms can employ to avoid costly mistakes.

Tip #1: Create a solid and thorough interview process.

When taking a case to trial, you probably have steps that you follow that have proven effective in the past. You may have even learned these steps from a mentor or someone who got experience in the process before you. Why not approach your interviewing process the same way? The future of the firm and the attorney being sought are both at risk here, so try these alternatives:

  • Get ideas and processes from the most successful people you know. This may include former managing partners, HR directors and even the recruiters you may be using.
  • Create a specific series of steps that guides the candidate through the interview process. Start with a resume and online review (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) and move things to a phone call. If that goes well, continue the process, making each step gets you more  in-depth information.  
  • Make the most of all the personnel assessment tests available, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  There are some very sophisticated assessments that will help you understand the candidate’s behaviors, personality, intelligence and social skills. Use these assessments as a way to weed out candidates who won’t fit your firm’s culture.
  • Create “telling questions” that are open-ended to get the most from the interview. Have two to three highly successful and experienced attorneys or executives conduct the interviews to get a variety of opinions on the candidate. Running an interview in an unstructured manner will lead to a poor hiring decision every time.

Tip #2: Make sure you have a structured on-boarding plan for new laterals.

While many firms think that they have this in place as part of the lateral attorney transition, they don’t. I regularly hear stories of the million dollar lateral that is bought in and then told, “Here’s your office and your phone, let us know if you need anything else.” WHAT?!  

Your law firm has just made a huge investment in a new attorney, and your on-boarding process (or lack of it) can make or break a successful future for all involved. The right on-boarding plan has multiple steps and details that might include:

  • Assigning one executive committee member to mentor the new lateral. This person would invest time over the first 90 days introducing the new attorney and making him or her comfortable with the team. This also helps get the cross-marketing efforts off the ground.
  • Setting up a written plan for the on-boarding and training process. Creating a predictable and manageable plan for the attorney makes a world of difference. Most attorneys thrive when structure is provided. This plan would break down the first week, month and quarter of the attorney’s time as it relates to internal and external activities. The worst feeling is when the lateral has been around for 90 days and nothing has been accomplished to integrate him into the firm.
  • Most importantly, it is critical to assist the new lateral in bringing over and growing his or her book of business. If they have sold you on the million dollar book, that must be realized for this to work for both parties. Be sure to find external or internal training and support to get your new attorney off to a great start. Fretzin, Inc. can provide attorney coaching services, among other things. Everyone loses when originations that are expected aren’t realized.

Just one unsuccessful lateral transition can cost a firm significantly. This could be the million-dollar book that isn’t realized, the recruiter’s fees or the unbillable time that was invested and lost forever. The time and money lost for all involved is so unfortunate, given that it’s easy to avoid mistakes when you have the right plan in place. Having an actual plan and process can make all the difference, and is the bottom line for firms that want to think more strategically than in the past. Call Fretzin, Inc. today at 312-981-0119 to strategize about how your law firm can do things differently and grow significantly.

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