Beyond Matchmaking: Creating Long-Term Relationships with Lateral Hires
As a business development strategy, hiring laterals is one way to bolster a firm’s business seemingly overnight. Yet so often, after a long courtship, these marriages fail because of the lack of long-term attention to making sure the match works for the firm, the attorney and all involved clients. The vital role of marketing in the successful integration of lateral hires is all too often overlooked and undervalued. Marketing is a key element in easing the transition of laterals throughout every step of the process, commencing even before the new hire officially comes on board, and continuing long after they first sit at their new desk.
Today’s competitive economy means that the most valuable attorneys are also the most sought-after, which means that your firm has undoubtedly been marketing to your new hire even as you’ve sought to determine whether or not the individual was a good fit for the firm. After investing time, effort and money in the search for the perfect lateral, don’t allow the relationship to fall by the wayside once you’ve finally made your choice! Remember, the successful integration of a seasoned attorney and their clients into your firm is a multipronged marketing exercise in which your firm validates the lateral’s decision to join your team while providing the tools to market your firm to both the clients they bring with them and the new clients you are counting on them to attract. Additionally, you will be marketing your new attorney to your firm’s existing clients, and keeping everyone involved informed, enthused and up to date.
Don’t wait until the day your new hire officially joins your team to start this marketing mission. Begin by informing your marketing and PR professionals immediately, whether you use an in-house department, an outside agency, or some combination of the two. Let your marketing professionals know about your potential new hire as soon as serious talks are underway, rather than waiting until the ink has officially dried on the deal. This gives them time to strategize and get the PR plan in motion. Depending on the visibility and public profile of your new lateral, a news leak is a very real possibility, and you may have to move faster than you thought in order to break the news on your terms. Having a press release already drafted, approved and ready for distribution ahead of time puts you one step ahead of the game.
When your new attorney finally joins your firm, take the time to really show them the ropes. Provide business development documents that detail your firm’s important communication points and its practices so your lateral can have the correct descriptions and firm terminology in order to communicate most effectively with existing clients, as well as prospective clients and referral sources, who may have questions or concerns about the move.
Ask your new attorney to meet with your marketing team as soon as possible, in order to give the business development team the information they need to start supporting the lateral’s own rainmaking. In addition to preparing a website biography and announcement, the marketing folks need to know what types of clients the lateral plans to target, what the communication points are, and how they’ve approached marketing in the past. Assigning your new lateral a firm mentor who can provide insight into your firm’s inner workings is another way to ease the transition and avoid confusion.
In keeping with this spirit of structured collaboration, you may want to schedule individual meetings between the new lateral and your firm’s partners, so that each can provide an overview of their practice and how it fits into the firm, how that practice is positioned, the specifics of the practice-area market, key clients, and anything else it may be beneficial for the new hire to know. Relying on a laissez faire system of your lawyers’ bringing their new colleague into the fold does not bode well for success.
Once the new hire is settled and has a strong grasp of your firm culture, you will want them to introduce your firm to their existing clients. Clients should never be taken for granted, and few appreciate it when an attorney makes a move and takes it as a given that the client will follow. For major clients, consider scheduling a visit to introduce them to the firm, and demonstrate that you understand and appreciate their specific needs by preparing a brief presentation tailored specifically to them. You may also want to introduce some of your firm’s current clients to the lateral, if they can benefit from the lateral’s expertise.
During this process, keep in mind that while a lateral’s considerable client list is likely one of the main reasons they were sought after by your firm, it is important not to come on too strong, lest the client feel overwhelmed or even put off by such aggressive behavior. The last thing your new lateral wants to hear is a client pleading for protection from the new firm! Allow the relationship to develop at a reasonable pace, and trust that the lateral will connect their clients with partners wherever applicable.
The successful integration of an established lateral into a new firm is a long-term campaign that requires nurturing, attention and follow-up, and not something that can be accomplished in one afternoon lunch. As you engage in this ongoing process, remember that integrating a lateral hire takes time, but the investment can reap considerable rewards for firm, attorney and client alike. Approached correctly, this integration can occur in a way that ensures that both your firm and its new attorneys will continue to enjoy mutual success.