Ten Ways to Boost Lateral Partner Integration
Whether due to mergers or downsizing, the trend in lateral lawyer moves is on the rise. Creating a lateral integration program is essential to make sure your new laterals hit the ground running, get up to speed, find their fit in your firm culture, and contribute to the firm's success. Here's how to do it.
Over the past few months, we have seen law firms merging as well as lawyers leaving firms to join other firms. This trend is predicted to continue as the economic downturn plays out. As these lawyers integrate into new firms, there are a myriad of communications, operational, marketing and cultural issues to consider, oftentimes with everyone involved in reaction mode. To make the transition as seamless as possible, for both the new lawyers and incumbent firm, it is key to have an “integration plan" in place with timeframes as well as template documents that may be customized quickly. Also key to a successful integration is assigning a point person or “team” of point people from various firm departments (i.e., marketing, recruiting and IT) to ensure the tasks within the plan are accomplished and to serve as liaisons for the new lawyers. Many firms have a professional dedicated to lateral hiring and integration and this person typically serves as the initial contact for the new lawyers and works in tandem with representatives from other departments. Outlined below are 10 best practices and notable components of such an integration plan.
1. Integrate laterals into your culture.
Each law firm has a distinctive culture with its own nuances such as a preferred method of communication (email vs. phone), marketing and client development processes, and compensation and billing structures. An important task of the integration team is to make the new lawyers aware of these nuances while learning about the lawyers’ past experiences and preferences. It is also important for the team to find out what types of resources and support the new lawyers are seeking to grow their practice and career. Also take care to learn from the laterals whether they served in leadership roles on internal committees, such as the marketing or technology committee, at their former firm. Adding a fresh perspective and knowledge to your committees will assist in keeping the firm dynamic. This exchange of information is a first step in fostering a collegial environment where everyone is working toward the common goal of advancing the firm.
2. Build an orientation program.
Most firms have an orientation to welcome incoming lawyers and professionals that includes training on the phone and computer systems, overview of the firm’s client base and capabilities and tour of the office. While these are key elements, it is also very important to show the lateral partners that the firm is invested in their success. Make the new lawyers aware of firm resources that will help them achieve their goals and facilitate introductions to the professionals who will support them. Orientation also provides you with the platform to discuss the firm's internal processes for approving marketing, research and other initiatives. Approval processes vary from firm to firm and are important to discuss up front to make certain everyone is on the same page moving forward. In order for the laterals to meet the lawyers in their practice group and those they will be working with on a regular basis, the integration team should consider coordinating with practice group leaders or other partner in charge, to ensure that lunches, dinners or other outings are planned. To gauge the effectiveness of your firm’s orientation program for laterals, consider interviewing the new lawyers after the first three months to get their feedback on what worked and what could be improved. Amend your program as necessary.
3. Spread the news that lawyers have joined your firm.
Communicating the news that laterals will be joining the firm is a significant element of an integration and involves messaging to several audiences in an accurate and timely sequence. A formal internal communication, preferably from the managing partner, should be disseminated to the entire employee base and alumni of the firm upon the new lawyers’ arrival and prior to the news being communicated outside of the firm to the media. Immediately upon their arrival, the new lawyers should send a "relocation/change of contact" email to their existing clients and contacts. With regard to external publicity, a press release announcing the lawyers are joining the firm should be disseminated within the first few days of their arrival to a pre-determined media list. The press release will enable you to merchandise the addition of the new lawyers and begin branding their expertise with your firm.
4. Market the new lawyers and practices.
You will learn about the lateral partners’ marketing experience as it relates to client and prospect targets, industry association involvement, client service and client development activities, speaking engagements, conference sponsorships, publications authored, etc. This information will enable you to develop strategic marketing and business development plans for the firm, practice and industry groups and new lawyers where none exist and bolster programs already in place. Depending on the size of the new group and practice(s) added to the firm, you may choose to gain additional exposure by developing a promotional brochure mailer, implementing an advertising campaign, hosting a webinar or podcast series, launching a custom publication, blog, newsletter or other communication vehicle.
5. Promote laterals on your website.
Biographies of the new lawyers should be posted on your firm’s website touting their arrival as close to the lawyers’ start date as possible. To the extent a quick internet search may be performed to gather basic information on the incoming lawyers’ areas of practice, industry expertise, education, professional association memberships, articles authored and speaking engagements, you will have a working biography until a formal one is created. If advanced notice that lawyers are joining the firm has been given, it is possible to secure their biographies from their previous firm’s website. Once news breaks that new lawyers will be joining your firm, interested parties and competitors will utilize search engines and other online research tools to gain access to this information. It is extremely important for the laterals’ biographies to be posted on your website to ensure they are affiliated with your firm through online search results. In addition, once the press release announcing the lawyers’ arrival has been disseminated to the media, it should also be posted on the firm’s website homepage.
6. Integrate new contacts into your CRM program.
The new lawyers should provide their contact list in digital format to the marketing IT team in order for it to be cleansed and imported into the new firm’s CRM system as quickly as possible. If you are able to collect the lateral partners’ contact data prior to their start date, there is high likelihood that the information would be uploaded upon their arrival. This lends itself to immediate communication with the new lawyers’ clients and contacts, for example, when sending out the “relocation/change of contact” email.
7. “Validate” your law firm.
After the new lawyers’ basic IT needs are met, their primary focus will be on servicing their clients and transitioning them over to the new firm. Aside from the tactical components of transferring client files and securing engagement letters, the lateral partners will need to “sell” their clients on how the move adds value for them. You should have a presentation developed that “validates” your firm in PowerPoint or other format for the incoming lawyers to email or present to their clients in short order. The presentation should highlight the firm’s competitive differentiators and how they benefit the client or prospect.
8. Plan a “road show” to visit clients and prospects.
In order to actively manage and grow relationships, strategic teams should be assigned to visit key clients and prospects to introduce the laterals and their new expertise if appropriate. Teams should consist of a cross-section of lawyers depending on the needs of the client and prospect organization. When determining the mix of lawyers, consider having the new lawyers as well as “legacy” lawyers who have been with the firm for several years; cross-office and cross-practice participation; and associate representation as it is important for their professional development to be included in these meetings. The size of the group should be as lean as possible – less is more.
9. Celebrate the laterals’ arrival.
Once the lawyers have been at the firm for a couple of months consider hosting a cocktail reception to introduce the new lawyers and celebrate their arrival. A reception of this type is usually done in a merger situation or if a large group joins a firm. Receptions are excellent for networking with clients and prospects as well as other key influencers and it is always beneficial to host in your office if you have event space to accommodate a large group.
10. Host a lawyer retreat.
Retreats are one of the best ways for the lateral lawyers and existing firm lawyers to get to know one another on both a professional and personal level. Typically held offsite, the mix of business meetings and recreational activities at a retreat provides lawyers with an opportunity to “bond” in-person and learn about each others’ capabilities and expertise. Given the economy, many firms have cut back on hosting partner retreats this year because they tend to be a significant budget item. It is hard to put a price tag on the relationship building between lawyers that takes place at retreats. These relationships are what binds and redefines your law firm as it evolves.
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