Law Firm Branding and Recruiting

I thought it was the most insecure thing I ever heard a grown man say: “What will everyone think of me if I join that firm?”

He was a partner who was open to making a move. His firm’s merger three years prior increasingly conflicted him out of work, resulting in progressively downward dips in originations. I made an effective presentation of my client’s opportunity based on his intrinsic motivations and the desires he shared with me about his ideal situation. But in spite of my enthusiastic pitch, he declined to go forward based one thing: my client’s perceived brand status within his practice area. Indeed, his pass on my opportunity was based on the preconceived idea of what everyone else might think about him joining that firm.

Some partners can see through this and view the substance behind the thin patina of branding. But there are many who, in spite of the strong business case, perceive too much risk in moving to a firm with questionable brand equity. No matter how well that nice-looking quality luxury car feels on the open road, at the end of the day it’s still a Kia, not a Lexus. That’s the power of the impression of a brand. Fortunately, I was able to quickly maneuver in my presentation by employing certain principles based on the psychology of influence, and pressed enough tangible hot buttons that caused him to agree to meet with my client. That was a close one.

Brand equity holds prominence in the minds of others when considering a lateral move. When I shifted from recruiting executives for corporations to recruiting partners for law firms, I quickly learned how this subtle attribute of a law firm carries so much weight. I became adept at telling good stories about law firms by realizing that the attitudes about a law firm’s perception in the market could develop positive equity and real energy in the minds of others.

I created a framework or a system in my mind to help me understand and manage the various aspects of law firm branding as they relate to recruiting, and have since started advising my clients during my search work on how they can increase their brand status to add to the sizzle in their recruiting efforts. Remember, recruiting is marketing.

This is not a model based on scientific research, but on my own individual conversations with thousands of partners about what they think of other law firms and how they consider opportunities.

Here are a few ideas and suggestions for your firm:

1. Always regard your firm’s brand from the viewpoint of those outside of it. We all think our own children are the smartest and best looking in the class. You need to look at your own firm objectively from the perspective of a reluctant prospect who has a lot to lose if the move to your firm goes wrong.

2. There are three aspects of a law firm’s brand: that of the firm itself, the brand associated with each practice group, and individual personal brands. There are some firms I have encountered that have weak brand status compared to other firms overall, but they have a unique practice group that is highly regarded within its practice area. As such, this practice-level brand can add value to the law firm brand. Or perhaps there is a single individual who can lend credibility to the firm overall and enhance the firm’s brand status. Firms and practice groups can borrow from this individual brand equity to enhance their own collective brand.

3. Consider utilizing brand-building tools when you tell your story. Here are my favorites:

• Recent hires. Show that smart partners choose your firm and you will elevate its status based on a principle of influence called Social Proof. (Visit Dr. Robert Cialdini’s site www.influenceatwork.com to learn more about the psychology of influence in business. I have known Cialdini personally since the late 90’s and built my entire search practice on his methodology). If the recent hire was in a position of leadership and influence with his or her previous firm, make sure you mention that.

• Rankings. I’m always surprised that some firms don’t seem to mention this in visible places on their websites. Check to see if your firm does.

• Mention a blue chip client, if possible. It’s even better if it’s a household name.

• Share the who’s who of your partnership: This would include former elected officials, former Chief Counsel of Fortune 500, and former high level government officials.

• Discuss, if possible, recent successful high profile cases involving name brand executives. If you see your success mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and non-legal media, then you are on the right path.

If you follow these recommendations in building your brand, you’ll never have to worry about prospective laterals feeling insecure about making a move to your firm.

Copyright © 2014 Scott Love

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.

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You’ve heard from the rest of the gang about the panels they’re hosting at our upcoming Attorney@Blog Conference. Well, think of my panel as the “practice ready” component of the conference. While they discuss important, substantive issues in the world of blogging, we’re going to be looking under the hood and talking about how to leverage technology to maximize your blog.

Perhaps you’re trying to get a blog going to help promote your practice. Maybe you’re a legal academic interested in putting your message out without having to deal with self-important law review editors. Possibly you just want a creative outlet. Or you’re a legal blogger because you’re one of those navel-gazers that Elie is going to talk about on his panel. Whatever you are, you have something to say about the law, but you may not know all the technological tools at your disposal.

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And — no promises — but we may have another exciting panelist, too. If you aren’t keeping an eye on the technological know-how of the Internet, you aren’t reaching the full audience you want to reach.

For more information and for tickets to the conference, please click here. Remember that CLE credit will be available. We look forward to seeing you on March 14.

Attorney@Blog Conference [Above the Law]




Unless you’re a complete ostrich (or a certain law school dean), you’re probably aware that the legal job market kind of sucks. Firms aren’t hiring, the government keeps shutting down, and let’s just say that most public interest organizations aren’t exactly flush with cash for a bunch of entry-level attorneys.

It’s enough to make you wonder why you ever signed up for law school, right?!? Putting aside that total valid question for another day, let me ask you this…what are you going to do to improve matters?

I’ve already suggested you make 2014 the Year of the Hustle. Sure, the situation looks pretty dire, but what else are you going to do? Give up? To be fair, I got some very reasonable email responses to that piece, basically saying, “Yeah, I want to hustle, but how?”

Here’s one idea. If you’re in San Francisco (or you can get there!) you’re invited to a conference I’m throwing on March 1st. It’s called Catapult, and it’ll help you figure out what you want from a career and how you’re going to get it.

I can’t promise you a BigLaw job (trust me, you probably don’t want one anyway), but I can promise you’ll leave energized about your career, with new skills and resources to set you on the path to success.

Sound interesting? Get all the details in the Catapult FAQ or check out the schedule of events.

See you there!

  • 17 Feb 2014 at 12:00 AM
  • Uncategorized

About Practical Law

Practical Law provides legal know-how that gives lawyers a better starting point. Our team of attorney editors creates and maintains thousands of up-to-date, practical resources that go beyond primary law and traditional legal research to give lawyers the resources needed to practice more efficiently, improve client service and add more value. To learn more, take a free trial.

Ed note: This post is sponsored by our friends at Prestige Legal Search.

Law firms have been in a “slow growth” phase ever since the nation began its recovery from the Great Recession. As we mentioned when we discussed the 2013 Am Law 100, “success now comes in the form of single-digit returns with regard to key financial metrics,” with Biglaw gains described as “modest” and “spotty” across the board.

Big-name lateral hires can sometimes bring in enough positive publicity and fanfare to make even the sickest of firms seem like the very picture of health and vitality. According to the latest American Lawyer Lateral Report, those lateral moves can be likened to a peacock’s tail: they offer “no advantage” for a firm’s ultimate survival, and may hinder the firm in the future. It happened at Dewey, and it can happen at other firms if they’re not careful. If only partners’ attentions weren’t so easily grabbed by the promise of higher profits.

So if this growing reliance on lateral hiring is truly capable of destabilizing law firms, wouldn’t you like to know which firms did the most lateral hiring over the past year? We’ve got the details for you….

According to Am Law’s 2014 Lateral Report, there were 2,522 moves in and out of Am Law 200 firms between October 1, 2012, and September 30, 2013 — which is funny, considering the publication was “unable to find a relationship between a lateral partner hiring strategy and higher law firm profitability.” What? There’s no statistical relationship? Whatever, lawyers are bad at math — very, very bad:

Perhaps this is telling law firm leaders what they already know. A 2012 ALM–LexisNexis Survey reported that only 28 percent of managing partners reported that lateral hiring was “highly effective,” defined as “most laterals have been retained and contributed to business growth.” Yet, in the same survey, 96 percent of managing partners reported that more lateral partners would be part of their firm’s growth strategy for the next two years, edging out business development (94 percent), pricing strategies such as AFAs (72 percent), lawyer development (71 percent) and client relationship management (65 percent).

So which firms didn’t care whether lateral hiring was “highly effective,” and continued to hire laterals out the wazoo anyway? Here are the top five firms of 2013 (by percentage of total partnership):

  • Husch Blackwell: 16.5 percent
  • Fox Rothschild: 16.0 percent
  • Adams and Reese: 12.6 percent
  • Sheppard Mullin: 10.9 percent
  • Gordon & Rees: 10.6 percent

Congrats to these firms on all of their lateral pickups. You’re the flashiest firms on the block. Go on and shake those tail feathers; we just hope it won’t be to your detriment.

You want to know which firms had the most defections last year, so we won’t leave you high and dry. These are the top five firms partners fled like rats from a sinking ship (by percentage of total partnership):

  • Dickstein Shapiro: 17.0 percent
  • Patton Boggs: 15.4 percent
  • Edwards Wildman: 13.3 percent
  • Shearman & Sterling: 10.0 percent
  • LeClairRyan: 9.8 percent

If you’re planning to lateral this year, now you know which firms could be hurting for new partners. But there’s got to be a reason why everyone’s flying the coop at these firms, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Do you think lateral hires are killing your firm? If so, you only have the partners to blame, and they won’t be changing their ways any time soon. Maybe you should consider getting out while you still can.

Cover Story: The 2014 Lateral Report [American Lawyer]
Constant Churn: The 2014 Lateral Report [American Lawyer]
Is Reliance on Lateral Hiring Destabilizing Firms? [American Lawyer]



Prestige Rewards Program: We’ll give you money if we place you in your next job – up to $15,000 for associates and up to $150,000 for partners and partner groups. Email info@prestigelegalsearch.com to see if you qualify.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to bring them on as a client. They were a big law firm filled with smart attorneys, just like all the others in Washington. They had done well in their home state, but their DC office seemed to be floundering in its lateral growth and was even losing a few partners to competing firms. I knew they were looking for several partners who fit my sweet spot and that I might be able to help them, so I asked for a meeting with the managing partner and their director of recruiting.

After our initial introductions, they gave me a menu list of practice areas in which they wanted to grow. I was interested in learning more about how they perceived themselves in the marketplace in comparison to other competing law firms. I really wanted to know what they saw as the business case as to why a successful partner with loyal clients would want to move to their firm.

In getting to this point in my conversations with my clients, I always like to find out how a law firm leader perceives key differentiators. I said to them, “When I am recruiting partners and engaging them in conversations about opportunities with your firm, I need to tell them something that is unique, compelling, and different about your presence in the Washington market. What would you say is different about you compared to other firms?”

You would have thought that I asked for a moment of silence. They just looked at each other and after a few moments of an awkward void, one of them looked back at me and literally shrugged as if her body language was saying ‘I give up.’ She then said, “Well, honestly we are just like all the others. We’re just a big law firm like all the rest.” They didn’t even give me the blah blah ‘great culture’ blah blah ‘robust platform’ speech. How can I sell this unconvincing presentation of their firm to a prospective partner candidate with a sizable book of portable business?

Successful partners will look at a potential opportunity from four different perspectives:

– How will this serve my clients?
– How will this serve me?
– Does the risk of moving give me an edge, and does the upside greatly outweigh the dangers of a move?
– Can I get involved in making an impact to that firm, and will I enjoy practicing there?

When I make recruiting calls to candidates, I have to pretend that every time I present an opportunity to them, they are going to ask me two little words: “So what?” I have to be ready to answer that question, and this firm could not help me come up with good answers. I decided it would be risky to add them to my small family of clients, so we cordially ended our meeting with a handshake, a non-committal grunt of how nice it was to talk to each other, and a sense of knowing that we were not a good fit to work together.

The Most Important Question Your Firm Can Ask

During your next lateral recruiting committee meeting, ask your colleagues to participate in a brain-storming exercise. Ask them to come up with answers to this question:

What is different about our firm?

This is where marketing begins. Recruiting is more akin to marketing and sales than it is to practicing law, even for law firms. This is why those with great legal minds can struggle with lateral recruiting, because the partners involved in it will use everything that helped them become successful lawyers and apply it to recruiting with a sad result. This is about a sales and marketing mindset. You have to attract people to your firm by enhancing your brand equity and crystalizing an attractive and compelling truthful message (marketing). You must manage the conversations with your prospects in a way that attracts them to you and stimulates them to make decisions and take actions to move to your firm (sales).

When you go through this exercise of identifying differentiation, you cannot talk about culture, even though we all know culture is important. In this exercise, your answers must be specific and tangible. Use these questions for a drill-down that will give your firm talking points for your meetings with prospective laterals:

1. What aspects and attributes of our firm are different than other law firms? Which ones stand out more?

2. How does our firm better serve our clients than our competitors?

3. How can our firm better serve the self-interests of a lateral partner and impact him or her on a personal and emotional level? People are emotional animals. You should establish an emotional context to the dialogue of the success someone will experience in your firm. The first rule of recruiting is this: “People only do what is in their own best interests.” You have to speak to that rule and translate your message in a way that serves him or her personally.

Remember that wars are won in the planning room. Spend time on this before you start engaging prospective laterals in conversations, and you will be amazed at how easy it is to tell a compelling and attractive story with positive results.

Copyright © 2014 Scott Love

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.

Fat. Stupid. Raging feminist. Bitch. Moron. K*ke. Slut. Woman-hater. Skank. Assh*le. C*nt. Whore.

“You have plenty of assets, like that fat milky white ass. I will tear that shit up, destroy it, every position until you can’t walk or feel the inside of your anus.”

These are just some of the colorful terms that have been used to describe me, and one of the messages publicly posted about me, in the nearly four years that I’ve written both pseudonymously and under my real name here at Above the Law. Our comments are hidden for our readers’ protection because they can be quite vile, but as editors, we have to look at them, and sometimes moderate them.

It’s difficult being a minority online, whether that word is used to describe race, gender, or sexual orientation. If you’re interested in learning how to engage your commenters, you should attend Above the Law’s inaugural Attorney@Blog conference, where I will moderate a panel on racism, sexism, and homophobia in online commenting platforms, featuring the following distinguished panelists:

This panel will explore the various strategies and best practices (along with their intellectual underpinnings) available to legal bloggers in managing the dark side of the internet: the “trolls” who engage in offensive and hateful (albeit protected) speech.

For more information and for tickets to the conference, please click here. CLE credit will be available, and early bird pricing remains in effect until February 1. We look forward to seeing you on March 14.

Attorney@Blog Conference [Above the Law]

Is there really a value to recruiting home-grown associates based on 1L grades? Is there a negative connotation to not competing with the top-tier firms for law school talent? Can firms only fill their “real” needs by looking across the market for lawyers 3 or 4 years into their careers?

There are pros and cons to recruiting associates (and partners) through either method. Let’s take a look at how to build a law firm….

The ATL editors sat down to discuss this issue in this week’s podcast. This week, our podcast is sponsored by Prestige Legal Search, a national search firm specializing in the recruitment and placement of associate and partners in top law firms. Check out their Rewards Program – associates can make up to $15,000 and partners can make up to $150,000 for lateraling.

Here’s the podcast (click through twice to play):

 

Earlier: 7 Tips To Help You Make The Right Lateral Move

 

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.

POTENTIAL

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.

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