A law firm’s reputation is built on the conduct of its partners. Firms have traditionally promoted from within, a thoughtful and incremental process. Today, however, it has become much more common to recruit partner-level candidates from competitors. Lateral recruiting can drive growth and enhance a firm’s reputation, but it can backfire if not done carefully and with thorough vetting. Given the amount of money spent annually by law firms that hire investigators, it is a curious fact that a negligible percentage is spent conducting due diligence on prospective partners.
The reality is many firms hire senior lawyers on little more than a handshake and a personal recommendation. A 2014-15 study by ALM Intelligence found that few law firms maintain formal policies for vetting partner candidates: more than half do not conduct criminal background checks or credit checks, while nearly two-thirds do not check personal references in a comprehensive manner. Such a lax approach to hiring can be costly, as illustrated by a recent episode involving a former partner at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings.
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