Sweeping Them Off Their Feet: Best Practices for Recruiting and Closing the Partners You Want


You’ve heard the comparison before: lateral partner recruiting is remarkably, indeed eerily, similar to dating. And, just like dating, rejection simply comes with the territory.  As recruiters, we often see law firms fall hard for candidates only to have them reject an offer or move to another “suitor” firm before they get a real shot to effectively woo them.  When this happens, firms ask their recruiters (glorified matchmakers and couples’ therapists at heart): “What could we have done differently or better to sweep that candidate off his or her feet and make him or her choose us?  While love is certainly not a science, the following are several best practices firms can employ to enhance their appeal with their most desired lateral partner candidates.

Make the Candidate Feel Desired. One of most fundamental ways to attract candidates to your firm is to make them feel desired genuinely from the outset. Top-performing partner are widely sought after in their respective markets and must be courted. Do not play hard-to-get with the candidates you want. Approach early interviews in full “sell mode,” highlighting all of the positive aspects of the firm, explaining why the firm wants/needs the candidate and describing the many reasons why he or she will be successful on the platform. Avoid the inclination to jump into interrogation mode too early in the process—there will be ample time over the course of the process for tough questions and diligence. In the beginning, establishing momentum and ensuring that candidates “feel the love” are crucial to their impression of your firm. To be sure, flattery will get you everywhere in lateral recruiting!

Communicate Constantly and Clearly. Keeping the relationship warm by ensuring that candidates always know where they stand in the process builds trust and promotes a favorable recruitment experience. Real time, regular feedback, either directly or through a recruiter, creates a sense of progression and serves as an important source of validation, which candidates want and need to remain engaged. Do not ghost your candidates! The firms that recruit the best are constantly managing candidate expectations and creating a consistent stream of “touches” so that they feel like a priority and in the loop.

Ask Candidates What Is Important to Them—and Then Ask Again. Make concerted and repeated efforts to show genuine interest in your candidates to truly understand what matters to them, what they need to take their practices to the next level, what their current pain points are, etc. By asking questions (and subsequently proving that they were actually listening to the answers), firms not only accelerate the relationship-building process but also position themselves to better help candidates understand how joining the firm will be transformative for them, their clients and their practices.  All too often, firms make the mistake of focusing more on why this new relationship will be transformative for the firm. Instead, especially in the early stages, put the candidates wants and needs first. As the recruitment progresses, there will be plenty of time and opportunity to full explore on how this match will benefit the firm.

Designate a Sponsor. Firms should thoughtfully select one representative or sponsor (maybe two) to drive the deal and serve as the consistent presence/interface with candidates. Not only does this create a more seamless process for candidates, but it gives candidates the opportunity to develop deeper relationships, ideally on both a personal and professional levels, with one or more key players at the firm. This will prevent candidates from feeling like are speed-dating, and give them comfort in the notion that they will already have at least one strong ally on day one of joining the firm. 

Have the Sponsor Participate in All the Interviews. Have the candidate sponsor participate in every major meeting throughout the recruitment process. This person will serve as the firm’s knowledge repository and funnel for all information relating to the candidacy, as well as a relationship referee of sorts for important firm-candidate interactions. Including a consistent, familiar face in all aspects of the interview phase not only makes the candidate feel more at ease and supported but also allows for real-time correction of missteps by interviewers and the targeted development of strategies for next steps.

Designate one person to be the lead interviewer for hard questions. Law firms should never make candidates feel like they are on trial. There is a fine line between diligence gathering and interrogation in the recruitment setting. Thus, designating one specific person to handle the tougher aspects of the diligence dialogue (i.e., digging deep on financials or client relationships) avoids any adversarial tone to the majority of the candidate’s interactions.

The moral of the story: In an industry full of frogs, be the prince your candidates want and deserve. Romance them. Be open, transparent and intentional about how you recruit them. Treat them the way you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. While your efforts may not result in an immediate “love at first site,” a genuine, consistent and thoughtful approach will increase your chances of turning a first date into a deep, abiding and (hopefully) wildly successful union.


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