There is an art to laterally recruiting partners into a law firm. And like with most relationships, emotions and intuition play as much of a part in a decision to move as the logistics.
A successful recruitment focuses on two things: think and feel. Before a partner is willing to look at a particular firm, they need to think that it is a good fit for their practice and clients, but at the end when they are accepting, they also need to feel that it is a good fit for them personally. By all means, it is very important to ensure that the partner thinks this is a good platform for them when you give them the offer, but your odds of them accepting go up when they also feel that it is the right fit for them personally.
Create a Personal Connection
Interviewing can easily become overwhelming. The partner candidate you are speaking with might also be speaking with other firms. It can become a blur of bios and Zoom boxes that are hard to recall months after the process starts. Creating personal relationships with a candidate and connecting with them outside of the interview process can build a strong bridge. Sometimes the right people for this are obvious, such as the person leading the practice, but sometimes it might be a peer or someone whom they already know. This is a technique often used when nearing the end of a search and a firm is moving into sell mode. While this is a good strategy, the earlier it is deployed—and with more touch points—the better it works.
Identify a Guide
Having a person who the candidate feels is invested in their success helps the candidate feel supported. For instance, reaching out before a big slate of interviews to help talk them through who they are meeting is always very well received. Checking in after an interview, or even when the partner is filling out the LPQ is also positive, as long as it is done without adding an unnecessary sense of pressure. I have even seen partners work through the LPQ and business plan with a candidate and, in the right circumstances, has been very well received.
Personalize the Pitch
Make the interview about them. Be specific about what the larger opportunity is for the candidate. Is there a particular client they could get work from with this lawyer’s expertise? If so, make the introduction to the person they would cross sell with part of the interview process. Make it real and let them see how fun it would be to pitch with that person and what they could potentially accomplish together. Think about who their clients are and who else at the firm could help them bring in more work.
In interviews, candidates will often ask why the firm has been so successful for the interviewer. While this is a great way to get the interviewer talking about their experience, it is also a way for the interviewer to begin selling the benefits of the firm. The answer here should not just be about PPP or the goal to grow the office but about why the partner would thrive in the environment.
Candidates are always very interested to hear how long the process takes, what is left to do and really, when will this end. Firms that move through the process quickly are often the winners, especially for top candidates who will have multiple options. Time moves differently for a candidate who wants to know what is going on with their potential career opportunity. When there are delays, they begin to move to the other firm in their mind. Even a couple of days at the end can be fatal for a recruitment. Don’t be shy about asking what else they might have going on or if they have a target date to accept an offer and move.
Discuss Your Compensation Model Early – Especially if It Is Unusual to Them
It is difficult to overcome an unusual compensation system the day they get the offer. For instance, is there a formula with a lower base and a lot of upside or do the need to come in as fixed share? Explaining this early in the process lets them get comfortable with it, even if no specific numbers are discussed. Without early discussion, this often hits like a low offer and is met with disappointment that is harder to overcome.
Prepare for the Counteroffer
Discuss this openly and honestly. Ask them how they plan to give notice and stay close to them when they do. If you have really sold them on the opportunity with you, they will hopefully be prepared to say they are going and will say when they give notice that they don’t want their current firm to try to keep them. If your partners have formed a strong bond to the candidate, acceptance is a good time to have those people reach out and congratulate them.
The interview process is a unique dance of diligence and sell. While you as a firm are working to determine if a partner is a good prospective fit for your firm, you can’t forget that they are doing the exact same thing to you. If you wait until you are truly sold on a candidate before moving to sell mode, you will miss the opportunity to use the recruitment to increase your chances that they will accept your offer. Think about what relationships you want to have in place if and when you want to move to offer so that when you do, your candidate feels that these are the partners they want to practice with and that this is the right firm for them.