Articles abound about what law firms should do to successfully integrate lateral partners — checklists for best practices, descriptions of integration programs, war stories of integrations gone wrong. However, the best transitions and integrations of lateral partners require that the lateral partner realize integration is a two-way street. Successful integration requires not only best practices by the partner’s new firm, but also a willingness by the new partner to be highly proactive in his or her first few days, weeks and months with the new firm.
As John F. Kennedy would say, rather than asking what your new law firm can do for you, think instead about what you can do for your new firm. We’ve compiled a list of new partner best practices to assist with this process.
Assuming that your new firm has had experience hiring lateral partners, you will have an initial orientation meeting upon arrival, if not sooner. Part of this orientation should include a meeting with the firm’s business transition manager to help walk you through the process of notifying your clients, transitioning physical files from your former firm, helping you draft your new bio and other marketing materials, etc. Come prepared for this meeting with lists: a list of all of your clients (with contact information); a list of all the matter files you need to have transferred to the new firm; a list of marketing materials you would like to prepare for your clients; a list of books and resources you use in the daily course of your practice; a list of events and speaking opportunities you would like to attend or sponsor; a list of various questions you have regarding your integration — you get the idea. The easier you make the information-gathering stage of the integration process for your new firm, the smoother and more expeditious your transition will be for everyone.
Amee McKim, director of legal recruitment for Duane Morris, explained, "Effective integration starts during the recruiting process, and a lateral should take the time to understand the new firm’s integration process in full … before joining the firm. Asking those questions up front is critical, because firms do approach integration in ways that range from formal to unstructured. Duane Morris, for example, has a very well-defined integration program that includes the assignment of one or more mentors, a full integration team, and the joint development of an integration plan with the new lateral that will serve as a professional integration roadmap for at least the first six months at the firm. Whether lateral integration is a formal process, or an informal and ad hoc series of activities, understanding that in advance will help the lateral know how to prepare effectively to get the most out of the transition."
Establish an Internal Network
Invest the time to build relationships with partners in your practice group, office and firmwide. Listen actively to your new partners when they discuss not only their practices, but their goals, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Bottom line: Treat your new partners (and give them as much attention) as you would new and prospective clients. Create your own internal team to help you with integration and to learn the real leadership structure, decision-makers and influencers with whom you will need to build relationships.
In assembling your internal team, find one or more folks who can quickly and efficiently help with the non-sexy parts of practicing at your new firm: how to use the technology; how to get the most out of the firm’s accounting and billing departments; who can best help navigate HR matters like benefits, insurance, taxes, etc. The faster you learn how to use these important infrastructures of the firm, the sooner you will become efficient at these basics, allowing you to focus on client development and growth.
Offer Your Services and Request Your Partners’
While you are in the process of visiting all of the offices to meet your new partners, make mental (and actual) notes about which partners can provide services for your existing clients and which services they might be able to provide to your clients. Then, actually offer your services and request their services. Discuss your expertise, the types of deals you’ve worked on recently, your thoughts on jointly pitching you and your partners’ expertise to potential and existing clients, etc. Tell them about your clients and how you feel they can help you provide better and more comprehensive service or add value to those clients. Let them know you are excited to work with them, not only in the initial meeting, but in follow-up meetings, email communications and phone calls. Nothing solidifies a relationship with a new partner like working together on a pitch or billable matter.
Brian Peters, president and CEO of Post & Schell, said, "In addition to personal introductions, the new lateral partner should ensure that his or her practice, clients, expertise and experience, as well as demonstrable examples of same, are readily available on the firm’s intranet such that all firm stakeholders can easily access such information for client introduction, cross-marketing and other related purposes."
As an aside, while making these new connections, be sure to recognize that some of your new partners may feel threatened by your arrival (they are only human). You can ease their concerns by assuring them, with your actions as well as your words, that you will respect their relationships with their existing clients.
Get on Message
Take the time to fully investigate and understand the firm’s key messages so that you can communicate them quickly and easily to clients and other potential laterals. Use the firm’s message to develop your own soundbites about why your new firm is different and a better platform for your practice moving forward. You obviously chose this new firm for several reasons, and using those reasons to craft this message is a good start. Getting on message will not only help you as the lateral integrate into the new firm, but it will also assist you in getting the coveted "buy-in" from your clients and prospective clients. Use this transition to a new firm as an excuse to broadcast this message, not just to your existing and prospective clients, but also to your entire network of contacts.
Build relationships and even friendships with your new partners, one by one. Talk to them about their families, their career paths, where they like to vacation, what their hobbies are. Bond with them over your mutual love for local sports teams, music or food. Try to spend time with them outside the office, in a more casual setting, whenever possible. Work to gain their trust and respect as friends and partners, not just a new business colleague.
Participate in your new firm’s social engagements and events. Try to view firm social occasions as an opportunity. Make an early effort to investigate the firm’s various committees, choose a few that interest you and contact the chair directly to determine how to get involved. One area that may make the most sense (and where you can provide enormous value) is the recruiting of other lateral partners. As a new addition to your firm, your perspective is often valuable to prospective lateral partners and a simple story for you to tell.
Work Hard and Don’t Complain
Nothing feels better for you as a new partner at a new firm than to hit the ground running and be productive as soon as possible. All firms expect (and budget) for some transition time of new lateral partners before they will be fully productive. However, if you can time your transition to maximize the amount of billable client work that you will do (in addition to client work done by your new colleagues) during the first 60 to 90 days at the firm, you will make a great first impression and engender significant goodwill. Trying to do all the recommended soft work is important, but so is the economic side of the equation. Remember that the first few months will require a lot of time and energy on your part. On the flip side, when (not if) there are some rocky patches in the integration process, it is much better to be solution-oriented, rather than problem-oriented. Nothing dampens enthusiasm for you at your new firm like complaining about how the furniture at your new office pales in comparison to your old firm’s décor or how the billing process takes forever at your new firm. If you are building relationships and getting involved, use your internal team to determine solutions.
As any partner who has ever made a lateral move knows, joining a new law firm is in a sense like entering into a marriage or other committed relationship, and, just like any committed relationship, it requires hard work and give-and-take. It’s a process that requires time, effort and care by both parties. As Henry Ford said, "Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."
When you make your next move, take control of your own destiny by following these best practices and coming up with your own integration strategies. Work together with your new law firm to be proactive and thoughtful about your integration and you and your new partners will achieve great success. •
Cliff Jarrett is managing director and office leader of the Charlotte/Raleigh-Durham office of Major, Lindsey & Africa. He focuses on the placement of partners, practice groups and associates with law firms and has successfully placed lawyers at international, regional and local firms throughout the Southeast and nationally. Contact him at 704-778-4582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meredith Frank is a director in the partner practice group in the Philadelphia office of Major, Lindsey & Africa. She specializes in lateral partner placements in top-tier national, international and regional law firms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Contact her at 267-238-9855 or email@example.com.