This is the second in a two-part series addressing one of the most costly and destabilizing realities of a law firm – the seemingly perpetual movement of lawyers from one firm to the next.

The first post on the subject  took a look at why and how to improve the lateral hiring process.  Today we turn our attention to an area that poses significant challenges — the integration side of the equation.

For purposes of our conversation, let’s assume that your firm has done all that can be done to ensure each individual and/or group tendered a lateral offer meets a strategic need and fits the culture of the firm.

Now comes the difficult part of growth by acquisition: devoting the time,  resources, and attention necessary to make each addition a successful one.  Where do we begin?

Once hired, statistics indicate that the quality of integration is the most significant factor in determining the success of the new relationship. This fact is supported by findings from a Major, Lindsay & Africa partner satisfaction survey which suggests that:

  1. Successful integration is the best indicator of lateral satisfaction;
  2. Given a demonstrated willingness on the part of partners to change firms, “…a firm’s failure to integrate a lateral partner often results in the partner moving yet again within several years.”

Put simply, quality integration is key to positive ROI in growth by acquisition.

How does a firm improve the integration process and experience?

To get the discussion started, let’s look at critical activity that should be incorporated  during a lateral hire’s first year with a focus on three important junctures:: pre-start; first day; and first year.

Pre-Start Activities

  • Leadership must create an enterprise wide understanding of and enthusiastic commitment to integration as a firm competency. This should include confidence in the the due diligence process as well as a grass roots belief that any lateral strengthens the firm’s strategic pursuits.
  • Engage a diverse group of existing firm personnel in the integration of every lateral hire. By diverse I mean (depending on the size and make-up of the firm) people from different offices, practice groups and strata of the organization; partner, associate, senior member, and administrative staff members.  The broader the connection to firm personnel — the stronger the connection to the firm and its culture — the better understanding new laterals have of how things operate, how to get things done, the stronger the bond.
  • As part of the offer process, document in detail all material expectations the lateral has of the firm and its support. Also detail specifically the firm’s expectations of the lateral including firm role, clients expected to transfer and level of personal work efforts. Cautionary note: experience suggests that word-of-mouth doesn’t get it done. Write it down.
  • Develop and agree to a plan that accurately maps the transition of the lateral into the firm. Again – talking about it rarely works. Write it down — with specifics as to the ramp-up of the candidate’s practice.

Start Date

  1. There is one and only one start date. It is a wonderful and often overlooked opportunity to make a lasting impression on the new addition. Day One should present the best possible snapshot of the firm’s culture. The lateral should be warmly and enthusiastically greeted. There is much written about the various components of quality orientation programs which I won’t repeat here. Suffice to say, you’re investing significantly in on-boarding a lateral; plan appropriately, and take the time to make the experience reflective of the investment.
  2. Assign a single point-person as primary contact and connection for integration purposes.
  3. Introduce the integration team. (If your firm does not have an integration team, the formation of such a group should be added to your pre-start activities.)

First Year

  • Create some buzz, make clients of the firm and clients of the lateral aware of the move and the new capabilities brought to each. Make the general market aware.
  • Regularly and openly monitor the practice integration plan, and directly discuss any slippage. Regular quarterly checks are essential. In the case of a situation that isn’t developing as expected, the first quarterly check will reveal a lot. If the practice is failing to develop as planned it should be abundantly clear by the 6 month mark and the firm should actively address options…including a strategy for smooth separation, should the trend continue.
  • Don’t forget to integrate other members of the group (secretaries, paralegals etc.)
  • Don’t forget to integrate spouse and family if applicable. To the extent the firm has spouse or family events, these are wonderful opportunities to strengthen intangible but nonetheless valuable bonds between the new hire and the firm.

This is not rocket science. You can no doubt add to this list of integration activities. But it does require some attention to detail. What would you add to the list of activities? Given the significant investment firms make in growth by acquisition, what else might we do to maximize the investment?