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Your First Meeting with a Prospective Lateral, Continued

This is the third article in a series on how law firms can have meaningful and productive conversations with prospective laterals. You can read the previous two articles HERE and HERE and email me at scott@attorneysearchgroup.com.

I had a friend who had a habit of asking women to marry him on the first date. He never had too many second dates.

Timing is everything. When you start talking about heartfelt long-term commitment, you have to do it at the right time. When you are selling your firm’s full potential with great detail and enthusiasm, you have to make sure you do it at the right time, and my recommendation in most scenarios is to wait until the second or even the third ‘date.’ The goal of the first meeting is for both sides to see that there is the possibility of a good fit. The goal of the second (and even the third) meeting is for both sides to see specifically how that will come to be.

And please keep that ring in your pocket. You are still a ways from making an offer.


The potential of your firm’s opportunity should be a byproduct of the dialogue focused on the first three P’s: the firm’s platform, practice and people. All of these variables should line up into a business case that makes sense, that its derivative will improve a partner’s earning potential. In other words, it should be obvious and exceptionally clear to the lateral that there is a significant upside to the move.

1. Paint a picture of the future.The best way to paint a picture of how the future looks, besides time travel, is to present someone who has already lateraled over and is beginning to bear fruit from the change. When you approach a new partner to participate in the interview process (preferably one who has been with the firm less than two years), ask him to talk about the story of how he specifically has improved his condition. He doesn’t have to talk in monetary specifics about how his comp has increased, but he must state clearly that he has seen a marked difference in his potential compared to his previous firm.Ask him to prepare for the meeting with specific stories. Specificity always builds credibility in making a case. They can be stories related to client access, client development, servicing issues, practice issues, team support, marketing, brand equity, and other relevant variables. It has to be something other than: “We have a robust platform and a collegial culture.” Everyone says that. The stories have to be real, specific, meaningful, and authentic. What problems did you have that were solved by moving to this firm?

2. War Games.Sometimes the conversations around the potential are best saved for the second and third meetings with the prospective lateral, once both parties agree that there are indicators that it could be a good fit. Usually I prepare both sides for this important meeting and am very clear about its outcome.I tell both my client and the prospective lateral that this next meeting is going to be a verbal business planning or strategy meeting, and that both sides should share how they might integrate and achieve goals together. I call it a ‘war game’ where neither holds back on their goals, capabilities, strengths and interests. In a recent conversation with a prospective lateral on his third meeting with my client, I prepared him by saying, “Talk freely as if it were decided that you are going to lateral to my client’s firm, so that you both will know if this is going to work as much as we think it will.”

From all this, both are prepared to have a drilled-down and productive discourse on the full potential of the partnership. It’s not unusual to talk about specific clients and matters and the ongoing expected revenue from them. Remember, this is a make or break meeting. This is how you and the prospective lateral can know exactly how the plan to integrate will unfold and grow into a measurable improvement for both sides.

3. Power in numbers. I recommend that when you have this meeting, bring a partner leading the practice group or one with specific familiarity as it relates to your prospective lateral’s practice to add insight into the verbal discussion. Make sure your colleague understands the specific goal of this “war game” meeting, which is to paint a clear and accurate picture of the full potential of the placement. Give the candidate the courtesy of notice that someone else will be joining the meeting and share the bio.

If you follow this advice and help your prospect see the specific potential with your firm, then the heartfelt enthusiasm will be shared by both of you. At that point you are one big step closer to making an offer of a long-term commitment.

Scott Love grows law firms and accelerates attorney careers by conducting partner-level and group searches for law firms and facilitating law firm mergers. He has been a career ‘headhunter’ since 1995 and is a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy. Scott lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, two children, and a toothless rescue dog named Smoky. He can be reached at 202-737-5555. To learn more, please visit www.attorneysearchgroup.com or email him at scott@attorneysearchgroup.com.