Essential to hiring anyone at a law firm, especially lateral partners, is clear branding. For example, how does the firm differentiate itself? How is the firm's client offering unique or, at least, different enough from its competitors to be attractive to clients and provide sustainable value to them? How does the firm define its values? These may seem like existential questions but they go to the root of why a lateral partner should want to join your firm. The Business Development and Marketing team clearly does not build a firm's brand alone but it is certainly the steward of the firm's brand – maintaining it, protecting it and promoting it. And the team has a vital role to play in the recruitment, onboarding and integration phases of a healthy and effective lateral partner hiring model:
Getting The Story Out There
First, the Marketing team has a practical impact on a firm's attractiveness since it manages, and can therefore influence, all the collateral materials that support a firm's brand image and its perception in the market (e.g. website, curating press mentions and directory entries, marketing materials, article placement, events). In effect, the BD and Marketing team manages the buzz about the firm. This plays into an individual candidate's perception of the firm and how attractive it is.
Being In The Know: Due Diligence
For many BD and marketing teams, an important component of their activities is research and specifically competitive intelligence. Even with (or perhaps because of) a plethora of online news services, firm reputations can often be distorted in the minds of laterals and interviewers alike. That makes it doubly important to understand not only the candidate but also the firm from which he or she comes (for more on this aspect of lateral hiring and its significance, see Is It Worth Hiring Stars?) Interviewers may suffer from emotional and cognitive biases (such as the confirmation bias[i]. If they rely only on memory or individual experiences about a candidate's firm, they can often be working with incomplete (or out-of-date) information in evaluating a candidate. When the firm is looking to understand a lateral candidate's reputation and practice, the BD team is often well placed to help management understand both the candidate's existing firm, its structure, its reputation, its clients and its business development activities as well as the candidate's individual profile and brand.
A Lateral's New Best Friend: BD As Integration Agents
Successfully attracting and hiring a lateral partner is no small achievement but helping that partner to elevate or expand his or her practice should he or she join you is an entirely different matter. This is where perception meets reality. As important as the BD team's role can be in due diligence, it can play an even more meaningful role in integration. Initially it helps to make a noise both externally and (importantly) internally about the hire through press releases, announcements to clients, email briefings and video introductions. Through judicious event administration, the BD team can thoughtfully help the lateral partner meet both colleagues and clients. And the BD team can also advise on promotional activities designed to raise awareness of the hire and therefore the firm: e.g., obtaining/coordinating interviews with the legal/business press for a willing lateral.
As the lateral settles in, the BD team can help break down the silo effect of the practice group structure and provide data about the firm's clients and practices. With its holistic view of the firm's clients and activities, the BD team is well positioned to analyze and advise where there are cross-selling opportunities. To best promote a lateral's integration (and profitability), BD can assess how cross-selling can operate both ways, as it needs to, by looking at which of the firm’s clients the lateral can service and which of the lateral's clients other firm lawyers can support.
Beyond the LPQ – Business Planning and Review
Any lateral hire should have a business plan that goes beyond the lateral partner questionnaire and which reflects his or her new environment and the realities of having moved from candidate to partner and colleague. Building on the integration work outlined above, the BD team can play an invaluable role in supporting the lateral as he or she develops and executes a business plan consistent with both the overall strategy of the firm and the business plan for the lateral's practice group. Over time, the BD team can help those accountable for the hire to review, monitor (and, where necessary, revise) such a plan at appropriate intervals: initially 3/6/9 months after hire and then every 6/12 months until the lateral is fully embedded within the firm.
For more on lateral partner integration, see The First 90 Days: Lateral Partner Onboarding and Integration.