Integrating Lateral Attorneys: It’s All in the Planning & Execution

integrating lateral attorneys
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The role of legal marketing and business development professionals has changed over the past decade.  The business development function has evolved into a strategic leadership role within many firms, steadily growing in sophistication and influence. This often includes responsibility for revenue generation and the administrative and tactical activities connected with it, including lateral attorneys. Increasingly, the development and execution of strategies for laterals are handled by the business development team. This makes sense – laterals, after all, are typically valued for their books of business, as well as their addition to a firm’s bench strength, specialized expertise, complementary practices, and succession planning, all of which help better serve clients.

The keyword is “integration.” Marketers bring unique capabilities to the critical process of getting new attorneys  up and running as quickly and efficiently as possible. If this is done correctly, integration can be seamless and efficient, but it has to occur both internally and externally.

Internally, because marketers know firm operations, they can guide laterals through the complex protocols of bringing in clients and integrating themselves, including getting up and running with administrative departments like IT and accounting. They support onboarding the new lateral’s clients quickly. They can announce the lateral’s arrival to the world, internal clients, and stakeholders. And they can ensure that the lateral’s business plan is executed.

Burr & Forman LLP’s Chief Marketing Officer Kathryn Whitaker observes, “There are a lot of moving parts when you add a lateral or a group of attorneys, and several departments are involved – from IT to accounting to knowledge management. Our approach is holistic; we are uniquely situated to ensure administrative departments are collaborating on these mission-critical activities. Legal marketers are bringing particular project management and process improvement skillsets to the table to really revamp and elevate the way lateral onboarding is done.”

Externally, laterals can hit the ground running by working behind the scenes with the marketing and business development teams on new collateral, announcements, press, and client outreach strategies that are ready to go the day they arrive. In addition to active clients, laterals also bring a network of relationships, including prospective clients and past ones. These connections are invaluable, and savvy firms apply their marketing expertise to making the most of them.

“Many of the early lateral onboarding activities that determine whether a lateral will be set up for success involve marketing and business development, including client communications, internal networking, and public relations,” Said Whitaker.

Bianca Madrigal, Business Development Manager at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, makes the point that taking the time to ensure that lateral attorneys educate themselves about the firm’s marketing and business development capabilities – and vice-versa – is a critical component of success.  “It’s extremely important to spend time with new lateral hires so they can better understand our role, the firm resources available, and how we will support their integration and client onboarding.  Likewise, it’s just as important for marketing and business development professionals to quickly learn everything they can about the new lateral’s practice – their service offerings, current clients, target clients, past clients, and key referral sources.  This knowledge also helps the team identify strategic internal connections throughout the firm to build out practices, industry groups and deepen client relationships.”

Several firms have developed or moved their competitive intelligence functions under the marketing and business development umbrella. This activity supports and guides the integration of laterals, as well as powering recruiting.

Golf Expert Witness

Marcie Borgal Shunk, President and Founder of the Tilt Institute, says that CI professionals utilizing data analytics can help lateral recruiting with tools and techniques to ensure a lateral is a good fit, both for the candidate and the firm. “CI teams can support the interview process with market intelligence and due diligence, identify gaps in the firm’s current talent pool, and help win over lateral candidates by isolating true differentiators – the characteristics that distinguish your firm from others,” says Shunk.

Borgal Shunk noted that it is important for firms to understand who their competition is for lateral talent. This can be done through competitive analysis, using sites like Glassdoor for staff and associate feedback and Vault for hours requirements and insights into culture and expectations of the firm. Additionally, associate satisfaction and diversity surveys and rankings and financial benchmarks such as rates, profitability, and leverage models can help firms understand whether and how they are competitive – or not.

“Everyone involved with the lateral recruiting process should be thinking about the candidate’s perspective and why they would find your firm compelling.” “Lateral candidates will be looking for a firm that is a cultural fit, where they will feel important and heard, have access to complementary resources and services for their clients, and see a geographic footprint to support practice growth and rates that fit within their specific practice or client base. And, of course, there will be considerations for compensation and overall firm financial health,” observes  Shunk.

How can marketers and business development professionals accomplish all this? Planning. Every lateral should start with a detailed 30/60/90-day plan, followed by quarterly accountability meetings, including:

  • Regular meetings to onboard clients as specified in the business plan
  • Check-ins with practice leaders and integration partners
  • A cross-marketing roadshow (virtual now) with other firm practice groups
  • Preparation and circulation of an internal one-sheet describing the lateral’s practice and clients
  • A two-way culture of accountability for both the lateral and the firm (“What support did we commit to? Are we providing it?”)

Successful relationships take work, and laterals are no exception. The arrival of a new lateral attorney is the beginning of a whole matrix of new relationships – with the firm, with other attorneys, with the client. To make all these work, firms need to consistently work at communication, accountability, and execution to ensure these relationships are strong and resilient. Success follows from that.

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