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More Bang for the Buck: Hiring Lateral Partners In Groups Is Gaining Popularity

Paul Hastings has been doing a lot of hiring lately. Same as many other firms, right? Actually, not quite. Paul Hastings has been in the headlines not for bringing on many new partners, but for hiring partners in groups. In March, the firm poached a group of 43 restructuring attorneys from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, including 18 partners. In May, Paul Hastings brought over a three-partner energy team from Shearman & Sterling. And in June, the firm hired a group of four financial services partners from Buckley.

Paul Hastings is executing this recruiting strategy on a particularly notable scale, but the firm’s appetite for lateral partner group hiring is hardly unique. In February, Reed Smith brought on an 11-attorney real estate finance group, including five partners, who had previously been at Akerman. In April, Norton Rose Fulbright announced the hiring of an 11-lawyer group, including four partners, from Minneapolis litigation boutique Blackwell Burke.

The benefits of a group move are increasingly compelling to both firms and individual partners. At the most basic level, hiring a group of partners gives a firm more bang for the buck. Why settle for one book of business when you can get several? Of course, not all partners are equally valuable, and before hiring a group, a firm will need to become comfortable that each potential partner meets its bar. But broadly speaking, the more partners the firm can hire, the more incremental business it stands to gain.

From a partner perspective, making a lateral move as a group eases the challenge of integration, facilitates client transitions, and strengthens confidence that the new firm will stand by the partner even in more challenging times.

Easier Lateral Partner Integration

Although cultural fit is typically a factor that both firms and lateral candidates take care to assess when discussing a potential lateral move, no two firms are perfectly alike, and integrating into the culture of a new firm can be a challenge. Having some familiar faces around tends to help — after all, it’s a good bet that a group that chooses to move together has an existing successful working relationship. It is easier to integrate a “working group” into the firm’s culture than to integrate lawyers individually: instead of starting afresh with entirely new colleagues, attorneys who arrive in a group may be able to keep many of their existing teams intact.

The lateral partner questionnaires of the partners in the group can be an especially useful tool in curating the lateral partner integration plan. The questionnaires collectively set out a roadmap allowing for each partner (and the partner-to-be) in the group to benefit from the group’s bench strength.

The benefits of more rapid integration tend to be reflected in immediate business development success. The hiring firm is making a bet that a lateral partner will not only bring over existing business but will also use the new platform to attract new clients quickly. When a group of partners moves together, they benefit from immediate cohesion in the new firm setting. As with any move, there will be a learning curve as the newly-arrived partners figure out how to refine their marketing pitches to showcase the new firm’s distinctive capabilities. But with a solid base of longtime colleagues already in place, the refinement is more icing on the cake than a fundamental reworking of the partner’s story. Partners in this situation are poised to compete immediately and successfully for new clients.

Smoother Client Transitions

For both the hiring firm and the moving partner, a critical component of a successful lateral move is transitioning as much of the partner’s existing book of business as possible. That process can be a real test of the partner’s relationship with his or her clients. From a client’s point of view, the decision to move is considerably simpler if it is clear that the client’s matters will be handled at the new firm not just by the same lead partner but also by the same larger team of attorneys. That continuity of the “bench” is highly reassuring.

Long Term Strategic Support and Execution

When a law firm hires a group of partners, associates, and counsels, there is an implicit long-term commitment from the firm to support the integration of the group and the expansion of the group’s practice. A firm that brings in a group is presumably thinking beyond any individual member and is more likely to be intentional about creating a succession plan for the longevity of the practice. This degree of strategic support from the new firm can be especially critical when the group experiences a challenging period. Cutting loose an entire group is more of a black mark than releasing an individual partner in challenging times. So from an individual partner’s perspective, there is valuable security in joining as part of a larger group.