Once the wining and dining, the vetting and the negotiations are over, the process of successfully adding a lateral partner to a firm really begins.
"It takes two years for a firm to integrate a lateral partner," says Tim Powers, lateral hiring partner and member of the board of directors for 521-lawyer Haynes and Boone.
The lateral partner needs to learn not only what the practice group is doing on a daily basis, but also about what matters colleagues are working on firmwide, he says. During the firm’s annual partners’ retreat, senior partners will meet with those partners who joined the firm laterally during the previous two years to talk about what aspects of the transition were successful and which need to be fixed, Powers says.
"The person has got to be happy to thrive," he says.
The Dallas-based firm is one of 18 of Texas’ 25 largest firms that participated in Texas Lawyer’s Lateral Hiring Survey. The firms are ranked by the number of lawyers in their Texas offices on Texas Lawyer‘s "The Texas 100" list published in April 2012.
The 18 firms hired 303 laterals during 2012, an increase of 10.2 percent when compared with the 275 laterals hired by the same firms the previous year.
The firms likely increased their 2012 lateral hiring in Texas to keep pace with increased business driven by the energy sector, says firm consultant William Cobb of Houston.
"When done well, lateral hiring is the fastest way for firms to grow," he says.
Counting Haynes and Boone, four of the firms each hired more than 20 lateral lawyers during 2012: Houston-based Andrews Kurth and Bracewell & Giuliani and Dallas-based Winstead. Collectively, the four firms hired 125 lateral lawyers, 28 of them partners.
Firms can grow revenues quickly by expanding services to lateral partners’ clients, but that requires effective integration into firm operations and culture, say senior lawyers with each of the four firms.
"What you tend to do with each of your lateral hires is you tend to perpetuate your culture," Powers says. "We’re very, very focused on how they fit in."
At Haynes and Boone, the firm matches the new partner with a mentor. Practice group heads and business development and marketing staff immediately work with lateral partners to make sure that the partner’s business plans and strategies line up with the firm’s, says Powers.
When a partner changes firms it is a huge career move, he says. "They are risking — banking on — their careers in the hands of a new firm," Powers says. "Part of the integration process is making them comfortable with that decision, and part of that is just caring."
Firms also work on cross-selling. If a lateral partner is a corporate lawyer, then their clients likely need litigators and employment experts, for example, Powers says. A department head or managing partner of the lateral partner’s office will meet with a lateral partner’s clients to talk about the firm, "so that the client gets comfortable with Haynes and Boone," he says.
Winstead decided to become aggressive about lateral hiring in 2010 to take advantage of changes in the marketplace as it rebounded from recession, says Tom Helfand, shareholder and chair of Winstead’s lateral integration committee.
"The biggest concern was not about being successful economically but whether we would lose something in terms of culture by bringing a bunch of people in," Helfand says.
The firm developed a formal, year-long integration plan for lateral hires, which includes scheduled meetings with the 305-lawyer firm’s chairman, members of the firm’s integration committee, the lateral shareholder’s practice group leader and staff members, he says.
The meetings cover information such as what additional work the lateral partner’s clients need in particular practice areas and which shareholders might be able to handle that work, he says.
"The message from day one is not: Get your clients in here, bill a bunch of hours and make a lot of money for the firm," Helfand says. "The message is: Share your clients, understand how the firm works and who the people in the firm are."
At 401-lawyer Andrews Kurth, one of the first meetings a lateral partner has is with the firm’s marketing and business development staff, says Mark Solomon, managing partner of the firm’s Dallas office and co-chairman of the firm’s practice expansion committee. The firm also invites the partner to travel to different offices to meet lawyers and assigns a lawyer, usually a partner in the same practice group, to work with the lateral, he says.
"That person’s responsibility is to be their primary integrating lawyer, if you will," Solomon says.
At 450-lawyer Bracewell & Giuliani, lateral partners immediately are encouraged to participate in partner meetings, firm committees and recruiting; they’re also invited to travel to various firm offices to meet other lawyers, says Greg Bopp, a member of the firm’s management committee and head of the firm’s lateral hiring.
The firm’s marketing staff gives the lateral partner whatever information the partner needs to educate clients about the firm, he says. The practice group leader is responsible for integrating the new partner, but other partners also help by including the new partner in client-development activities, bringing the new partner in on existing projects as a member of the firm’s client service team and helping the partner transition existing clients to the firm, he says.
"It’s a process that, in some sense, never ends," Bopp says. "In order to be successful with lateral hiring, [integration is] something you have to do over a long period of time, so they can become a seamless part of the institution."
BY THE NUMBERS
Lateral hiring in the Texas offices of 18 of the 25 largest firms in Texas was up 10.2 percent in 2012 compared to the lateral hires made by the same firms in 2011, according to data collected in Texas Lawyer‘s annual Lateral Moves Survey. The 25 firms include Texas-based firms and out-of-state firms with large Texas operations, ranked according to Texas attorney counts on Texas Lawyer‘s "The Texas 100" list published April 30, 2012.
Seven firms declined to participate in the survey: Fulbright & Jaworski; Jackson Walker; Jones Day; K&L Gates; King & Spalding; McKool Smith; and Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons.
In 2011, the 18 reporting firms hired a total of 275 lateral attorneys in their Texas offices; in 2012 the same firms hired 303 laterals in Texas.
Eight of the large firms responding to the survey hired more laterals in 2012 than they did in 2011; eight of the firms made fewer lateral hires in 2012 when compared with the previous year; and two of the firms hired the same number of 2012 laterals as they did in 2011.