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There’s evidence to suggest that lateral partner hiring doesn’t always turn out well for the law firms that engage in it. Sometimes firms overpay for talent. Sometimes the talent isn’t as talented as they claimed. Sometimes firms fail to integrate lateral partners well. There are many ways for the process to go wrong.

But what about for the lateral partners themselves? Are they more satisfied with the process and their new professional homes?

Survey says….

A survey conducted by Major, Lindsey & Africa, the prominent legal search firm, and ALM Legal Intelligence, part of American Lawyer Media, drew responses from almost 1,200 law firm partners in the U.S. and abroad. Here are 10 findings from the survey that jumped out at us:

1. Most lateral partners are happy with their moves: 52.8% reported that they’re “very satisfied” with their current firm, and 33.7% reported that they are “somewhat satisfied” (so a total of 86.5% are very or somewhat satisfied).

2. And they don’t regret their moves: not surprisingly in light of the satisfaction scores, 80.6% said they would move to their current firm if they had it to do all over again. Just 16.3% said they would move to a different firm, and a mere 3.1% said they wished they had stayed at their prior firm.

3. They’re generally happy with their pay: 81.8% described themselves as happy with their current compensation.

4. But pay wasn’t a major motivator for moving: respondents were given 8 possible factors that led them to move, and they ranked “anticipated compensation” #6 out of 8. The #1 factor: “firm culture.” Who says “firm culture” is a bunch of meaningless marketing-speak? (Another possibility: maybe “firm culture” was picked as a euphemism for “toxic office politics at the old firm.”)

5. Guarantees are available, but limited: remember those gigantic, multi-year guarantees to lateral partners that were part of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s undoing? They’re not that common these days: 22.7% of the surveyed partners reported their comp being guaranteed for the remainder of the year, 44.9% got guarantees for the remainder of the year and the following year, and 9.4% got guarantees for the remainder of the year and for the next two years or longer. Almost of a quarter of laterals joined their new firms sans guarantee.

6. Some laterals use recruiters, some don’t: the split appears to be half and half; 45.7% used a recruiting firm to at least some degree.

7. The laterals who use recruiters seem satisfied: more than 83% of the laterals who utilized recruiters described themselves as “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the experience, and a mere 3.8% said they were not satisfied at all. (Good news for legal recruiters, several of whom we’re happy to have as our advertisers.)

8. Lawyers, not so good with the due diligence: just 60.7% of respondents reviewed the partnership agreements of their new firms prior to joining, and only 36.6% looked at their new firms’ financial statements — a level of due diligence that the survey authors, Jon Lindsey and Jeffrey Lowe of MLA, characterized as “shockingly inadequate.” It’s surprising that lawyers who conduct due diligence and research for a living don’t do more of it themselves when making important career decisions. (Or maybe it’s not surprising; Dewey know of partners who joined imploding law firms just months before collapse?)

9. Integration is improving: responding partners rated overall integration efforts at 3.7 out of 4, an improvement over the 3.6 score from prior surveys in 1996 and 2006.

10. And perhaps this is reflected in improved originations: 62.7% of laterals increased their originations post-move, and just 11.9% said originations went down.

Given the high stakes of lateral partner hiring, it’s a topic that deserves more attention than it receives. So thanks to MLA and Am Law for producing this interesting and comprehensive survey. You can read more about it at Am Law Daily or the MLA website (where you can download a copy of the full report).

2013 Lateral Partner Satisfaction Survey [Major, Lindsey & Africa (survey)]
Survey Finds Law Firm Culture Top Reason Partners Change Law Firms
[Major, Lindsey & Africa (press release)]
Survey: Most Laterals Would Do It All Over Again [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]

Earlier: A Closer Look at Lateral Partner Hiring


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