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 subsequent15 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.

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