Integration of Laterals

- Richard Brock

Many law firms are seeking to grow by lateral hires as opposed to new law school graduates.  In fact, surveys reveal that more than 80% of firms with 250 or more lawyers have acquired laterals in the last several years.  However, hiring laterally does not guarantee success. Studies also indicate that approximately 35% of lateral hires leave within five years.  A report by JD Match and Right Profile calculated the top 400 law firms lose roughly $9.1 billion annually due to turnover.  Therefore, in addition to having a solid program for hiring laterals, it is essential for law firms to develop the art of successful integration of those laterals.

Like nearly all of us, most lawyers thrive in a community setting, interacting with others who have similar desires, goals, and outlook. Experienced lawyers who are considering a lateral move to another law office usually have a good idea of the environment they prefer. Most want to feel accepted, appreciated and part of a team. Interestingly, this perception of acceptance ranks even higher in importance than the salary offered. Law firms must ensure they are operating in both a culturally and socially welcoming atmosphere to attract and, more importantly, retain the best talent.

4 Ways to Make Lateral Hires Feel Welcome

1. Craft and follow a plan specifically designed to welcome and integrate lateral hires. Include meetings with the attorneys the new hire will be working alongside, stakeholders, senior and junior partners, and anyone else critical to the lateral hire’s success. Hold meetings in the office, as well as offsite lunches, dinners, and other outings. Encourage personal contact and informal one-on-one meetings.

2. Communicate all pertinent information, including:

  • A complete list of current legal staff and their bios.
  • Relevant information on key firm clients.
  • Information on business development strategies, marketing tactics, and the resources available for these essential activities.
  • A printed guide that covers office procedures, policies, and customs.
  • An overview of billing procedures.
  • Realistic expectations for the lateral at specific benchmarks such as 90 days, 6 months, 1st year and 2nd 

3. Designate a leader of the integration process, or in the case of larger firms, designate someone from each department involved. Choose staff who understand the significance and long-term benefits of thoughtful, well-prepared integration. Establish an accountability system to ensure each one does their part.

4. Recognize and utilize the lateral hire’s best skills and interests. Analyze the lateral’s previous practice and client base and identify how current partners and the lateral hire can work together and be of value to each other. Immediately involve the lateral in client projects that use their expertise and strengths. Include him/her in firm-building activities, such as developing new technical approaches, or firm strategy discussions. Schedule presentations to inform all legal personnel about the capabilities and accomplishments of the new hire. Learning what strengths a lateral hire brings to the table fosters a reciprocal arrangement and benefits everyone. It not only brings a fresh perspective but also builds a connection between the new hire and current partners and associates.

Isn’t it wiser to spend your time and money on integration, rather than turnover? A focused effort on lateral integration pays off in a connected, loyal team of lawyers and a prosperous bottom-line.