Lateral Hiring Done Right

If your firm is looking to expand, but isn’t promoting from within,you may  instead be looking to recruit lawyers from other firms…perhaps with their own clients.  If that’s the case, you’ll need to come up with a sure-fire lateral hiring technique. If you’re in the market for some sage advice on that topic, you might consider the words of  a successful legal recruiter who also happens to be a Harvard-trained lawyer.   

Especially when he relates that he, quite by accident, stumbled on to “the best lateral hiring structure and follow…through” by a firm that he’s ever witnessed, and seems eager to share the lessons learned.   

Recruiter Laurence R. Latourette (pictured here), who worked at three DC branch offices (as general partner at one) before his current stint as a recruiter, was approached out of the blue one day by the senior partner of Dickinson Wright who was looking to lateral recruit.  Latourette didn’t have high expectations, he says, as the market was “rife with marginal offices on life support”, but what ensued taught him that there is a right and a wrong way to conduct lateral hiring…and Dickinson Wright’s strategy was right on the money.   

“While many firms do a decent job at partner recruiting, most have some weaknesses either in strategy or execution,” Latourette said.  “Dickinson, however, put in place the best…as effectively as any I have encountered.”  

For many years, lateral hiring was not part of the culture. Promotions occurred from within. But as has been evident within the last two decades, the game has changed.  Competition and greater levels of efficiency have driven firms to look outside of their own ranks to bring in specialists in more and more fields.  

“[M]ost firms have accepted that competing for lateral partners is highly beneficial, if not necessary, for the long-term survival of their organizations,”  Latourette says. (Of course, the other side of the coin is that these are the very candidates who might very well leave for another lateral move…but this is a risk that a healthy firm must undertake.)  

What was it that Latourette found to be so effective about the Dickinson model of lateral hiring?   Although the procedure is often convoluted and inefficient, he explains, the “Dickinson approach” was particularly successful–they ended up making a match…10, in fact–because it streamlined the process, switched to sales mode and took the endeavor seriously.  

First, the lateral hiring had to be assigned to one heavy hitter who had the wherewithal to get things done. A distracted and overworked managing partner would have probably made the process come to a grinding halt. Similarly, Latourette suggests that a non-legal person wouldn’t work as “they rarely have the necessary heft” to get a non-partner to agree to consider a certain candidate. 

Who does this leave? A single senior partner–the heavy hitter.

Dickinson gave this plum assignment to a member of its management committee with no other mandate.  Known as a stepping-stone to future leadership positions, this resulted in phone calls being rapidly returned by even busy department heads eager to cooperate.  

Secondly, everyone at Dickinson was in sales mode. There was a sense of caring, and a win/win attitude. It was obvious that there would be no treating the lateral applicant as if she or he should feel fortunate they were even being considered. 

In addition, Latourette feels, really excellent lawyers and decent human beings–as those at Dickinson were–will attract similar sorts of candidates, especially if they go out of their way to make the process an enticing situation.  

Those involved in the hiring process took everyone’s time seriously and were perfectly willing to immediately eliminate candidates who were a bad fit and move on to the next step. They didn’t dither and put the process on hold.  All parties demonstrated the perseverance to get  the job done.  

Although there are consulting firms that believe you don’t need a recruiter—see the link to “Do-It-Yourself Lateral Hiring” in the sources at the end of this blog—if you are going to use one, make sure you provide him or her with pertinent, carefully thought-out information.  Don’t throw out vague answers that will make it hard for the recruiter to pinpoint just why someone would want to work for your firm. 

Allow for multiple meetings along those lines.

Also, if you keep the recruiter informed throughout the process, she or he will bring further value to the search.   To read more, go to http://bit.ly/fF8ati and http://www.altmanweil.com/DoItYourselfLateralHiring/

-EM

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