Articles abound about what law firms should do to successfully integrate lateral partners checklists for best practices, descriptions of integration programs, war stories of integrations gone wrong. However, the best transitions and integrations of lateral partners require that the lateral partner realize integration is a two-way street. Successful integration requires not only best practices by the partner's new firm, but also a willingness by the new partner to be highly proactive in his or her first few days, weeks and months with the new firm.
As John F. Kennedy would say, rather than asking what your new law firm can do for you, think instead about what you can do for your new firm. We've compiled a list of new partner best practices to assist with this process.
Assuming that your new firm has had experience hiring lateral partners, you will have an initial orientation meeting upon arrival, if not sooner. Part of this orientation should include a meeting with the firm's business transition manager to help walk you through the process of notifying your clients, transitioning physical files from your former firm, helping you draft your new bio and other marketing materials, etc. Come prepared for this meeting with lists: a list of all of your clients (with contact information); a list of all the matter files you need to have transferred to the new firm; a list of marketing materials you would like to prepare for your clients; a list of books and resources you use in the daily course of your practice; a list of events and speaking opportunities you would like to attend or sponsor; a list of various questions you have regarding your integration you get the idea. The easier you make the information-gathering stage of the integration process for your new firm, the smoother and more expeditious your transition will be for everyone.
Amee McKim, director of legal recruitment for Duane Morris, explained, "Effective integration starts during the recruiting process, and a lateral should take the time to understand the new firm's integration process in full ... before joining the firm. Asking those questions up front is critical, because firms do approach integration in ways that range from formal to unstructured. Duane Morris, for example, has a very well-defined integration program that includes the assignment of one or more mentors, a full integration team, and the joint development of an integration plan with the new lateral that will serve as a professional integration roadmap for at least the first six months at the firm. Whether lateral integration is a formal process, or an informal and ad hoc series of activities, understanding that in advance will help the lateral know how to prepare effectively to get the most out of the transition."
Establish an Internal Network
Invest the time to build relationships with partners in your practice group, office and firmwide. Listen actively to your new partners when they discuss not only their practices, but their goals, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Bottom line: Treat your new partners (and give them as much attention) as you would new and prospective clients. Create your own internal team to help you with integration and to learn the real leadership structure, decision-makers and influencers with whom you will need to build relationships.
In assembling your internal team, find one or more folks who can quickly and efficiently help with the non-sexy parts of practicing at your new firm: how to use the technology; how to get the most out of the firm's accounting and billing departments; who can best help navigate HR matters like benefits, insurance, taxes, etc. The faster you learn how to use these important infrastructures of the firm, the sooner you will become efficient at these basics, allowing you to focus on client development and growth.
Offer Your Services and Request Your Partners'
While you are in the process of visiting all of the offices to meet your new partners, make mental (and actual) notes about which partners can provide services for your existing clients and which services they might be able to provide to your clients. Then, actually offer your services and request their services. Discuss your expertise, the types of deals you've worked on recently, your thoughts on jointly pitching you and your partners' expertise to potential and existing clients, etc. Tell them about your clients and how you feel they can help you provide better and more comprehensive service or add value to those clients. Let them know you are excited to work with them, not only in the initial meeting, but in follow-up meetings, email communications and phone calls. Nothing solidifies a relationship with a new partner like working together on a pitch or billable matter.
Brian Peters, president and CEO of Post & Schell, said, "In addition to personal introductions, the new lateral partner should ensure that his or her practice, clients, expertise and experience, as well as demonstrable examples of same, are readily available on the firm's intranet such that all firm stakeholders can easily access such information for client introduction, cross-marketing and other related purposes."
As an aside, while making these new connections, be sure to recognize that some of your new partners may feel threatened by your arrival (they are only human). You can ease their concerns by assuring them, with your actions as well as your words, that you will respect their relationships with their existing clients.
Get on Message
Take the time to fully investigate and understand the firm's key messages so that you can communicate them quickly and easily to clients and other potential laterals. Use the firm's message to develop your own soundbites about why your new firm is different and a better platform for your practice moving forward. You obviously chose this new firm for several reasons, and using those reasons to craft this message is a good start. Getting on message will not only help you as the lateral integrate into the new firm, but it will also assist you in getting the coveted "buy-in" from your clients and prospective clients. Use this transition to a new firm as an excuse to broadcast this message, not just to your existing and prospective clients, but also to your entire network of contacts.