Lateral Integration Can Make or Break Firms’ Next New Partner Hire

lateral integration

Lateral integration is the greatest single predictor of lateral partner satisfaction, according to the results of our 2023 Lateral Partner Satisfaction Survey. But in order for integration to be successful, and for a long-term relationship to develop between firm and partner, both the new lateral and the firm need to approach the partnership ready to support one another.

In late 2021, a colleague and I wrote a how-to article to prepare new lateral partners to “hit the ground running” when transitioning to their new law firm. We offered partners guidelines from the beginning of the search through the integration process at their new firm. With MLA’s most recent Lateral Partner Satisfaction Survey hot off the press, that begs the question: Is your firm also doing everything it can to set lateral partners up for success from the start?

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The Start of It All

Firms should think about the lateral integration process as actually beginning during the interview phase. This is the first step for a lateral to start getting to know their potential new firm and colleagues. The interview gives both the firm and the partner the opportunity to elicit the information each side needs about practices, clients, capabilities, culture, resources, etc. During the interview, law firms should:

  1. Be upfront with potential new hires. At a minimum, they should not overpromise or mislead them into believing the realities of the firm as something they are not. Firms should put their cards on the table as to what they are capable of and why adding this partner will be beneficial to both parties. (Respondents to MLA’s survey strongly encouraged transparency.) If there is alignment and interest, then a successful partnership is already off to a good start.
  2. Keep the momentum going—remember, competition for top talent is fierce and firms should not delay in scooping up a good match. Make sure you’re consistently following up and providing guidance to candidates on next steps in the process.

Coming Together

Once a partner accepts an offer, the firm’s integration team should jump into action to ensure a seamless transition. Firms that have integration and onboarding plans, and that planned for a smooth transfer of files and information, were more successful at making laterals feel they were set up for success.

Additionally, during the interview process, firms will likely have received a great deal of information about the resources the new partner will need to be successful. Chief among them is the new partner’s comprehensive business plan – which should feature the relationships within the organization they represent and outline what the business case might be on the new platform. This plan should facilitate insights into cross-selling opportunities for the new firm and enable the partner and the firm together to transition current clients and connect with lucrative prospects, instrumental to creating successful integration and onboarding plans. Consequently, firms should make sure they have taken the time for an in-depth analysis of these plans.

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The firm’s lateral partner integration process must be robust, not just a checklist of tasks. It also should be overseen by someone who knows the firm well enough to be able to identify cross-selling opportunities and introduce the lateral to the people they need to know. Ideally, this will be someone in the same practice. An effective program will likely also involve other departments, including marketing and business development, information technology, and talent acquisition—as well as monthly follow up meetings with the integration team to ensure the right introductions are being made, and that pitches are armed with the appropriate players.

Developing those key relationships in the early days will be crucial for the new lateral. Whoever is guiding the new lateral should help facilitate some of those introductions, but the new lateral should also take the initiative and seek out their new colleagues in their practice and in the business teams. A strong first impression will build the foundation for a fruitful future. And the sooner connections are made and synergies are formed, the sooner the new partner will feel integrated into the new firm.

MLA’s survey showed a striking correlation between ineffective integration and low satisfaction, as well as between effective integration and high satisfaction. There are a number of steps that lateral partners need to proactively take to ensure their career transition is a success. But the onus is also on firms to make sure they are laying the foundation to maximize their return on investment, taking the steps early on to build a long-term and successful partnership with their promising new lateral attorney.

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