Early last year, we released a 68-page report on the results of my most recent Lateral Partner Satisfaction Survey. Fully 86% of the more than 2,200 laterals who responded were somewhat or very satisfied with their new firm, and 82% were satisfied with their compensation. From their perspective, the move was a success. But were law firms experiencing the same levels of satisfaction? As a follow-on to that survey, I reached out to more than a dozen heads of Am Law 100 firms to discuss their experiences with the acquisition of lateral partners, and in particular how they define success.

In recent years, it has been fashionable for experts analyzing partner mobility to opine on the success rate of such moves between law firms. Based on one’s definition of success and one’s built-in biases, the rates offered range from 50% to more than 80% successful. Consultants for law firm mergers tend to believe that lateral acquisition of individual partners or groups is inherently less desirable than the full-bore, full-firm mergers upon which they focus. Consultants who specialize in due diligence of partners (including somehow magically evaluating the strength of client relationships without compromising the candidate’s critically important confidentiality) contend that hiring partners is so dangerous it is more likely to fail without the assistance of a consultant who specializes in, yes, due diligence. And legal recruiters who primarily assist partners and groups in their transitions think, of course, that their route is the way to go.

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