Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Michael Allen is Managing Principal at Lateral Link, focusing exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.
A good recruiter can identify window-shoppers. We are all tempted to do it. You walk down Rodeo Drive and on your left, the polished chassis of a Bugatti Veyron catches your eye and on your right, the muted silver of Lamborghini Veneno flickers in the sun. A Lamborghini or Bugatti would more than satiate most people, but the titans of Biglaw are always chasing that elusive Maybach Exelero and in the process, they may at the same time alienate top-tier “Lamborghini” lawyers.
This condition is endemic to some of the top Am Law 100 law firms. Despite their massive push for expansion, many firms are still hesitant to bring in outstanding lateral candidates. The process is also torturous for the candidates who go through multiple rounds of interviews before they are finally turned away for bill rate concerns or potential conflicts, not even mentioning the opportunity costs of time for everyone involved in the process…
Firms retain the prerogative to pick the best attorneys for their firm but many mistake current production for future potential. Firms hire most partners with the assumption that they will generate a certain level of profits. Firms negotiate salaries based on untested assumptions about portable business and potential revenues projected over several years. Sometimes firms underestimate performance. Other times, firms incur fixed salaries without realizing the offsetting revenues they were anticipating.
Nonetheless, when a firm rejects an attorney for whatever reason, the likelihood of the same attorney accepting an offer down the line from the same firm substantially decreases. I have witnessed many partners who attain “rainmaker” status — over four million dollars in business — and specifically omit firms that previously rejected them from their list of destinations. The motivation is not pure spite. The partners often feel that the firm “window shopped” without any intention of hiring them. When a reputation gets out on the market that the firm is not a serious buyer, the firm will most definitely struggle to get candidates through the door. Partners are also weary of compromising client information through the process. I have yet to see a non-disclosure executed in the process even though sensitive information is disclosed.
Some firms are bigger perpetrators than others, but there is a constant trend throughout the Am Law 100 that window-shopping — which we have defined using a mixture of empirical and anecdotal evidence — decreases with Am Law ranking. The firms with PPP above $1.5 million tend to window-shop three times as often as the firms that generate less profit per partner. The top firms can and should be more selective.
There are several notable exceptions to firms who are known for window-shopping. On the other hand, some firms have a strategic vision and execute their business plan with efficiency. One such example is Dentons. This firm has successfully executed a well thought out plan without wasting time testing the market with excessive browsing. Many waited on the sidelines to see how Dentons would manage one of the largest international legal platforms. Suffice it to say, as the firm expanded in platform, its PPP and Revenue Per Lawyer increased. While Dentons has been expanding considerably it has not compromised its standards or strategic plan. In my dealings with Dentons, the firm’s decision makers have been forthright about their needs and honest in their dealings.
Simply put, window-shopping is “a plague o’ both your houses.” When a firm window shops, it jilts exemplary candidates and makes them less likely to accept offers of employment from the firm in the future. A firm’s reputation for window-shopping is a difficult one to overcome in the marketplace.
Previously on Lateral Link:
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