I am interested in the interaction of a group of people who have a common goal, or a common obsession, each contributing something unique to make something greater than the sum of its parts. I don’t know why, but from day one, that has interested me. – Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band
The recent news of departures from Carlton Fields Jorden Burt is most interesting. The firm, was the product of the 2014 merger of Tampa based Carlton Fields with DC based Jorden Burt. At the time of the merger the synergies between the two firms was promoted as one of the real selling points. Now, 5 years late, at least 30 of the 48 original Jorden Burt partners have left, including name partners Jorden and Burt.
The degree of fallout between two firms that had touted “fit” begs the question of how good the fit really was. When looking back one must wonder about the degree shared aspirations.
When looking at law firms and particularly two firms getting ready to become one, the single greatest predictor of a law firm’s stability — through good as well as tough times — is the degree to which the partners share aspirations.
In fact, it is really pretty simple. The more disparate the aspirations in a partnership, the more difficult it is to maintain harmony.
When looking at mergers or even general growth, the hiring priorities of most law firms exacerbate the issue of fit. When it comes to hiring entry-level associates, little matters but law school attended and grades. And when hiring partners laterally, the expected portable business trumps everything else (even though reality rarely measures up to those projections).
You might try conducting a blind survey in your firm and with potential additions to see the extent to which there is variance on a few simple issues to see the extent of variance.
Pose these (or others that you find appropriate) aspiration-based questions:
- All partners should work at a minimum billable level of ________
- All lawyers should commit a minimum of______ hours to pro-bono work.
- Should the firm accommodate lawyer part-time schedules
- What is a reasonable target for senior partner compensation.
- How do you rank the following on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being most important:
- Quality of client work;
- Partner income;
- Firm size;
- Employee welfare;
- Community reputation.
To the extent you find wide variation, you might consider reevaluating the targeted growth and maybe your general hiring practices.