Edge International


Lateral Partner Integration: Beyond the Book of Business

The most-discussed and most-measured aspect of moving a lateral partner to your firm is that lawyer’s book of business. It dominates the recruitment discussion, the initial client transitions and the financial measures in the first 6-18 months. Can we get from the promises of the recruiting phase to the reality of a “better than average producer” after a year? The focus on that success measure can cause firms to under-perform on other important features of lateral partner integration. In the face of recent estimates that only 28% of lateral partner moves succeed, what more can firms do to make sure that the partner and her clients “stick”?

My colleague Mike White addressed business integration processes for laterals in this space recently. I want to address six practices that go beyond financial performance, but which are equally critical to making the lateral partner stick.

  1. Pair the partner with a one-year “buddy. This partner should be separate from the partner who is accountable for business integration. The buddy should be from a different practice group, but with same or similar target clients. The buddy’s job is to interpret firm culture, introduce cross-selling opportunities, host the lateral through the first annual meeting, etc. You can write a job description that works for your firm. 
  2. Assign the lateral to mentor a strong associate.The gives the lateral a chance to pass new ideas from past practice to the next generation – and fulfill a firm investment goal at the same time. I say “strong associate” because your lateral will not have enough time for extensive training and development work.
  3. Pick the lateral’s brains after period of breaking in. There are many opportunities to pick up best practices from other firms. I once observed a lateral from Latham in a new firm who easily out-performed his colleagues in handling associate evaluations (25 litigation associates a year). Why? Because he had acquired the techniques and discipline at Latham. Then bring these ideas to management to see if you can’t absorb this free competitive intelligence.
  4. Be able to describe your firm’s standards for client relations and ask the lateral to implement those standards and exceed them. Many firms have developed expectations for client service and relations. Not just “tickets for ball games,” but return call times, frequency of updates, technology connections to key clients, and dedicated teams are some examples. If you have standards that exceed the client’s former firm, his clients are in for a pleasant surprise.
  5. Give the lateral a committee or project assignment.What are her interests and talents? How might they match with recruiting, marketing, or business process analysis? Perhaps a pricing project or a major RFP would fit for someone who has strong financial skills. This assignment will bring the lateral together with partners of similar interests, but cut across clients or practice areas. The assignment also says, “We want firm investment as well as billed hours.”
  6. Train or coach the lateral in team leadership. The lateral’s long-term success will come from leveraged or co-operative teams in practice. Yet very few partners receive leadership training so that they can excel at this critical skill. Bring in a trusted trainer and coach to help meet that gap, where it exists.

Your firm invests a lot in getting a lateral to join you. You might even say you do a decent job of initial “onboarding.” And you will certainly be monitoring financial performance. These six lateral integration practices might make the lateral want to stick around for years to come.

David Cruickshank

Edge Principal advises firms on growth strategies and lateral integration programs. In addition to being a lawyer with a master’s from Harvard Law School and an LLB from the University of Western Ontario, he is a trained mediator who has taught at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law School. He frequently trains partners and associates on management skills like delegation, feedback, managing up and career development.  His interactive courses are now online.