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CORRECTION, 3/31/13, 2:15 p.m. EDT: The original version of this article incorrectly identified the authors of the previous two Lateral Partner Satisfaction Surveys, in 1996 and 2006. ALI did not assist MLA with the previous two surveys. We regret the error.

More than 80 percent of law firm partners who have changed firms at least once say they would do it again if given the chance, according to survey to be released Monday by legal recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa and ALM Legal Intelligence, the research arm of ALM Media.

The 2013 Lateral Partner Satisfaction Survey—which follows two earlier versions produced by MLA in 1996 and 2006—is based on answers provided by 1,175 law firm partners in the U.S. and overseas to a series of questions about the process that led to their moves as well as how smoothly they were integrated into their new firms.

Among the survey respondents—all of whom work at firms large enough to have been included in either the Am Law 200, NLJ 350 or Global 100 at least once in the past five years—64 percent said they had moved only once in their careers, while 24 percent reported making two moves.

For the most part, the survey respondents say they are glad they moved. While 80.6 percent said they would join their current firm if they could go back and consider the move all over again, only 3.1 percent said they wished they had stayed with their old firms and 16.3 percent said they would have moved, but to a different firm altogether.

Just under nine out of ten respondents, 86.5 percent, said they were satisfied with their current firms, with 52.8 percent saying they were “very satisfied” and 33.7 percent identifying themselves as “somewhat satisfied.” Only 3.3 percent of respondents were not satisfied at all at their current firms. As to how much they earn, 81.8 percent said they were happy with their current compensation, while 5.7 percent were not at all satisfied.

As their counterparts did in the two earlier surveys, the partners surveyed this time around identified “firm culture” as the most important factor in deciding to switch firms (it tied for first place in 2006). On the flip side, respondents cited their new firms’ “international or national presence” as the least important reason behind their decision to switch.

In another echo of the earlier surveys, this year’s edition ranks “anticipated compensation” sixth out of eight options respondents were offered to describe what prompted them to switch firms. At the same time, 32.9 percent of partners surveyed listed compensation as among the reasons they left their former firm, while 42.2 percent said their former’s firm culture was one reason they decided to leave. Concern over the financial health of their former firm was at least one reason why 26.2 percent of the respondents found a new home. (Respondents were allowed to choose more than one reason.)

A little less than half the respondents, 45.7 percent, chose not to go through the search process on their own, relying instead on a recruiting firm to some degree—whether in simply creating a practice profile or for more formal negotiations. Just over 83 percent of that group described themselves as at least somewhat satisfied with their experience working with a recruiting firm; 3.8 percent said they were not satisfied at all.

Considering the survey respondents’ overall happiness, it’s worth noting that the survey’s authors label as “shockingly inadequate” the level of due diligence the partners performed in connection with making their moves. The survey shows that 91.2 percent of respondents said they spoke with the chairman or managing partner of their new firms in advance of moving, but only 36.6 percent said they reviewed that firm’s financial statements, including loan documents and leases, ahead of joining. And only 60.7 percent reviewed their new firms’ partnership agreements in advance. The survey’s authors say those results prove that many lateral partners “leapt before they looked.”

Despite the apparent lack of due diligence, 86.5 percent of respondents said they received “adequate and accurate information” concerning the overall financial health of the firms they joined. (For more on how partners who responded to the survey would advised those considering following in their footsteps, see “8 Tips for Lateral Partners From Those Who Made A Move.”)

Overall, the survey’s authors say, the survey results show firms continuing to improve when it comes to integrating lateral hires into their partnerships, with the responding partners rating their new firms’ efforts on that front slightly higher in 2013 than in previous years. On average, the respondents rated firms’ overall integration efforts at 3.7 out of 4 points, an increase from the 3.6 average score tallied in the previous two surveys. The partners’ responses show that firms have specifically improved at communicating their expectations to new hires and at cross-selling the firm’s relevant services to the clients of lateral partners.

Jeffrey Lowe, the leader of MLA’s law firm practice group and an author of the report, tells The Am Law Daily there is a kind of symbiotic relationship between the importance lateral partners place on firm culture and their successful integration into the partnership they are joining. “You really can’t be participating in the firm’s culture if you haven’t been integrated into it properly,” Lowe says.

He adds that integrating lateral hires has taken on greater importance in recent decades as lateral movement within the partner ranks increases. “In the old days, one made partner at a firm and expected that would be the firm they would retire from, and so you had many fewer opportunities to have to worry about integrating firms,” he says. “Now, firms could easily be bringing on 20, 30, 40 lateral partners per year. And, with that much change, you need to have an effective integration process in place in order to make sure that people don’t get lost in the shuffle.”

Meanwhile, MLA and ALI also sent a separate survey to the people responsible for lateral partner hiring at each Am Law 200 firm in order to gain perspective on their experiences with integrating lateral hires. A report on the firms’ anonymous responses is scheduled to be released later this year.

To download a copy of the 2013 Lateral Partner Satisfaction Survey, please visit the MLA website.

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