After a decade of working with law firms to help recruit lateral partners, I have seen common pitfalls that can be avoided to help increase a firm's likelihood of success. Firms that offer the best opportunity and make compelling compensation offers don't always land the partners they want.
Why? Because how they handle the recruiting process can also have a big impact on the outcome. To ensure a firm is putting its best foot forward, partners and hiring teams should evaluate the lateral recruiting process regularly and consider if they are making any of these common missteps.
Timing is critical
Moving through the lateral process quickly matters — but it is not just about the overall time from submission to offer.
The overall process needs to be streamlined for consistent results. Create an internal system to quickly evaluate new prospective candidates and schedule initial meetings.
Create a personal bond
A candidate should feel that someone is invested in their recruitment. This does not need to be the chair of their practice group; rather, it can be a peer, office managing partner or even someone else in the firm with whom they have a personal connection.
This person should be able to:
Explain the compensation system and culture early and often
Compensation systems drive culture. Prospective laterals should have a full understanding of how their contribution to the firm will be valued at the end of the year. Do not just focus on explaining the number in the offer letter. The goal should be to make the lateral feel comfortable that they will be treated fairly over the course of their career, including after the set time laid out in their offer letter expires and they fall into the regular compensation cycle.
Do not leave conversations about the compensation system for post-offer. If the firm has a formula compensation system, either for the offer letter or after, the candidate should know that long before they get the offer. If a candidate is going to receive an offer with a formula — what I call a split the risk offer — share this information before they review the letter so they can understand that is the process and not be surprised or, worse, offended.
The people matter, A LOT
At the beginning of the lateral process, it is about going to a firm the candidate thinks is a good fit. At the end of the process, it is about going to a firm they feel is the right opportunity for them.
Feeling good about the people they will practice with is incredibly important.
Listening is the key to success
Everyone has unique reasons for exploring other opportunities. Identify those issues for the candidate who the firm wants and work to address those needs in the interview process. If the firm is working with a good recruiter, they should be able to share the candidate's primary criteria.
Build the story of why a particular new firm is a better fit for the candidate than where they are and other firms they may be speaking with. The trick here is to listen to the candidate describe their practice and goals and help determine why and how that person benefits the potential new firm.
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for ensuring success, and no firm will get every lateral partner candidate they want. Evaluating the wins is helpful, but honestly evaluating the losses will also provide very useful information. Regroup after every interview process to review what worked and what did not. Understanding where the process went astray for the candidates will help improve the process next time.
The actions discussed above will only help a firm make the process better and increase their chances of successfully wooing their next lateral candidate.