How Successful Have Your Lateral Partner Hires Been?

Last week I attended the NALP Summit, a yearly one-day program where experts share the trends in hiring impacting Big Law. I was particularly struck by what I heard about Lateral Partner hiring. Recently, we have seen a surge in newly-created positions that are specifically focused on recruiting Lateral Partners. In 2018, Lateral volume was up 14% from 2017. Top firms are hiring Lateral Partners in record numbers, but it turns out that many of these hires are failing. Why is this, and what does it take to be a good Lateral hire?

Here are some statistics from 2018 that really stood out:

  • Only 58% of Lateral Partner hires were deemed successful by Managing Partners vs. 84% of internally-promoted Partners
  • 15% of Lateral Partner hires were asked to leave vs 5% of internally-promoted Partners

What I have observed first-hand when creating firm-specific Lateral Partner Interview Training programs is that the interview process does not necessarily focus on who will be a good cultural fit or why they want to join your firm. Instead, the focus is on the book of business they say they can bring, or if their practice expertise will help grow the firm’s business. These are important factors, but why are 42% of Lateral Partner hires deemed unsuccessful and 15% asked to leave? Identifying the factors that make a Partner a good addition to your firm is critical because each firm is truly unique. Just because someone was successful at Firm X does not mean they will be a success at your firm. Are your interviewers asking the right questions of Partner candidates?

There’s an often overlooked factor that is likely to cause a hire to be a bad fit: A need for significance! If you hire someone who has a high need for significance, they will likely be unable to put the needs of the firm, practice or colleagues first. They will also eventually be disappointed, because this need is unsustainable. A candidate may be the most brilliant attorney with a strong business following, but if their greatest priority is feeling important, they are likely to cause dissent in the Partnership, hog credit and eventually leave for another firm. How many times have you seen this? Asking the right questions and doing due diligence is the only way to increase the percentage of successful Lateral Partner hires.

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