Partners in Practice

Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post was written by Tricia McGrath, Senior Director at Lateral Link, who works with partner and associate candidates on law firm searches, most often in the New York, California, and Washington, D.C. regions.

When a firm is considering a lateral partner candidate, the firm will perform due diligence on the candidate. The firm will be interested in reviewing materials such as a partner business plan and a lateral partner questionnaire, and will investigate and evaluate the partner and their practice. It is equally important for a lateral partner candidate to conduct his or her own due diligence on a prospective firm. As an equity partner, you will become part owner in a “business,” and should verify that there will be an appropriate return on your investment of time, energy, skill, and capital.

Of course, neither the firm nor the partner can ascertain with 100% certainty that a lateral relationship will work. However, appropriate due diligence can minimize the risk of failure, as important facts are revealed and future expectations can be managed. While there are many areas in which you’d like insight, three top concerns are (1) the firm’s financials, (2) the firm’s management, and (3) the firm’s culture….

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Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post marks the conclusion of a two-part narrative about lateral partner hiring, and was written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link. You can read the first part here.

PROVIDE RECRUITERS THE INFORMATION NECESSARY TO DO THEIR JOBS (CONTINUED)

At the typical meeting with firms to discuss hiring needs, several partners will quickly go through a vague wish list (such as “IP litigators” or “government contract partners” all with “more than $2 million in business”), and give no more direction. When they are asked why a lateral might come to the firm, there is almost always a brief pause, followed by a blanket statement that the firm has a collegial atmosphere and a “no a-holes allowed” policy.

In contrast, with Dickinson, I met all of the D.C. partners to talk about what kinds of lawyers might best complement their practices, and had numerous follow-up discussions with both the individual attorneys and the hiring partner about what would and wouldn’t make sense. I also spoke to numerous lawyers in their other offices to get a sense of what kind of attorneys would be a good fit. Of critical importance were our detailed talks as to which existing and new business opportunities Dickinson might offer laterals, what leadership positions might be available, the recent steady growth of the firm, and where the firm was headed.

They also kept me informed about the process, which allowed me to bring further value. When one group I brought to them mentioned in a meeting with Dickinson that they were considering another firm, I put together a spreadsheet demonstrating that the competing D.C. office had lost half of the lateral partners hired in the last ten years. This was in stark contrast to the much higher retention rate at Dickinson. I later learned that the spreadsheet was a primary factor in helping to seal the deal….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Partners in Practice: Lateral Hiring Done ‘Wright’ (Part II)”

Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This two-part post about lateral partner hiring was written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link.

The call came in on a dreary Saturday afternoon in November. A senior partner from the Detroit-based firm of Dickinson Wright was going to be in town on Monday and wanted to meet about lateral hiring for their D.C. office. Having been a lawyer at three D.C. branch offices (including a stint as managing partner for Preston Gates) and having attended dozens of similar meetings as a recruiter with out-of-town law firms, I didn’t have high expectations; almost all out-of-town firms think they can successfully compete in the brutal Washington market already rife with marginal offices on life support and shuttered offices of those that didn’t make it. Nevertheless, I agreed to meet since I always learn something from these encounters, and one thing life has taught me is that you never know how things will actually turn out.

The meeting and my subsequent experience reconfirmed that lesson as together we almost doubled the size of their D.C. office by adding 10 lawyers in the subsequent 15 months. While many firms do a decent job at partner recruiting, most have some weaknesses either in strategy or execution. Dickinson, however, put in place the best hiring structure and followed through as effectively as any I have encountered.

To bring more rationality to an often convoluted and inefficient process, the following distills the elements of that approach. While its solutions aren’t unique, the Dickinson model offers a useful benchmark from which other firms might improve their own hiring efforts….

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Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post marks the conclusion of a three-part narrative detailing the make up of a lateral move, and is written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link. You can read the first part of the series here, and the second part here.

A TEMPORARY UNCERTAIN PROCESS (CONTINUED)

Résumés: In this digital age, some lawyers and recruiters don’t even bother with resumes — this is a big mistake. First, by taking the time to prepare a résumé, the candidate signals he or she is serious about actually moving. Second, a good résumé can highlight experience and clients in a way that a Web-based bio cannot: it can also be tailored to the specific needs of the recipient firms. I ask all of my candidates to have résumés — if need be, I even prepare the first draft for them.

Business Plans: Along with a potent résumé, partner candidates should also prepare a business plan, which presents an overview of the candidate’s practice, billings, collections, rates and hours worked over at least the last three years, key clients, and a discussion of how the practice would thrive at the prospective firm, should he or she join. If the initial meeting goes well, a firm usually wants to see these details before deciding whether to go forward. When I was a managing partner, I put a great deal of weight on these overviews; as a recruiter, I review them carefully to ensure that the candidate provides their information effectively, frequently going through several drafts to get it right.

Since Bill needed to move in a hurry, we combined the résumé and business plan in the initial submission to firms (going through a half dozen drafts in the process), which allowed them to evaluate Bill as quickly as possible….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Partners in Practice: Anatomy of a Lateral Move (Part III)”

Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post marks the second of a three-part narrative detailing the make up of a lateral move and is written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link. Read the first part here.

HOW FIRMS EVALUATE CANDIDATES (CONTINUED)

Client Diversification and Conflicts: To diversify risk, firms prefer candidates who have spread their business among a number of clients, rather than concentrating it in just one or two large ones. While they generally like high-profile clients who can raise their profitability and status, the more dominant a company, the more likely it is to create conflicts with others in that industry, whether or not a firm has an immediate conflict; further, such high-profile clients often expect that firms will voluntarily forgo representing even potential competitors (sometimes referred to as the “Microsoft conundrum”). Thus, a candidate with such a client has no chance at any firm that currently represents a competitor.

Bill had worked with a marquee high-tech client over the last decade, which constituted about three-quarters of his portable business. The client had followed Bill through several moves, but its conflicts policies necessitated the moves. So while the heft of the marquee client and its loyalty to Bill mitigated the diversification issue, a number of firms would likely shy away from hiring him because of definite or potential conflicts with his showcase client….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Partners in Practice: Anatomy of a Lateral Move (Part II)”

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post marks the first of a three-part narrative detailing the make up of a lateral move, and is written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link.

The call came on a cool, clear Thursday morning in April: “Bill” was in trouble. He had joined a midsize firm as a partner nine months earlier. Now, despite assurances to the contrary, the firm had accepted a representation that would be adverse to Bill’s main client. He needed to move, and he needed to move fast.

We met for more than an hour that afternoon covering all the critical issues: his professional history; his expertise; his clients and potential conflicts; his billings, collections, and rates; whether he would be bringing anyone with him; the kind of firm and culture that he was looking for, including additional support he would need; how much longer he wanted to practice; and the level of compensation he could expect.

Each year, about one in 20 partners faces a lateral move. The process can seem irrational and daunting, especially to first-timers. Having gone through a lateral move myself, and overseen the hiring of numerous laterals as a managing partner, I’m more familiar with this arcane ritual than most. Now, after 10 years as a recruiter guiding dozens of candidates through the process, I offer an “anatomy” of a lateral move, using Bill’s experience to demystify the journey and explain how firms evaluate candidates, which materials candidates should typically produce, the normal sequence of events, and how candidates can best prepare for them….

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Ed. note: This is the newest installment in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors.

The lateral law firm partner market stateside and abroad has maintained a steady pace consistent with the last several years of partner movement.

According to ALM data, almost 2,000 lateral partners have transitioned from one law firm to another law firm in this 2012 fiscal year alone. Given that partner moves take time because of the complexity in the partner hiring process, certainly many of the conversations leading to these 2012 transitions started back in 2011.

Regardless of when the conversations initiated, we are seeing a steady pace in 2012 consistent with prior years for the appetite for hiring lateral partners.

So, what does it mean?

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Ed. note: This is the first installment in a new series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today, Larry Latourette, Executive Director – Partner Practice, brings us his insights on what it’s like to practice law in the era of mandatory retirement, and how older partners can make a lateral transitions to new firms.

When I first met “Mark” for lunch this summer, he appeared to be in his mid-fifties, in excellent health, and talked about his competitive tennis game, needing to put his teenage kids through college, and his thriving legal practice that he couldn’t imagine giving up in the next ten years. In reality, Mark was 64, faced forced retirement from his firm in nine months, and wanted to know what his options were for moving laterally to another firm.

As a legal recruiter, I have met a growing number of lawyers like Mark who are bumping up against their firms’ mandatory retirement age. This trend will, in fact, accelerate over the next five years, for several reasons. Like other sectors of the economy, the Baby Boomers have had a dramatic effect on lawyer demographics. About 60 percent of law partners are now 55 or older, and by some estimates, a quarter of all practicing attorneys will be 65 or older by next year. At the same time the population is graying, however, it is also living longer. Especially with the increasing number of women in the legal profession, the life expectancy of lawyers who are 65 is now almost 20 years higher, with most of that time spent in good physical and mental health. Finally, the recent downturn in the economy has also caused some lawyers to postpone retirement as their nest eggs have dwindled.

Objectively, there is no question that most older lawyers are up to the challenge of practicing law….

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