by: Randi Lewis
This article appeared in Accounting and Financial Planning for Law Firms, an ALM publication delivering analysis and intelligence for Corporate Counsel, Managing Partners, Financial Planning Professionals, and Law Firm Administrators. Visit the website to learn more.
You are a partner in a law firm and you have decided to make a lateral move. You want it to be the right move to a better platform. Where do you start and how do you maximize the likelihood of a successful outcome? The lateral candidate process differs among firms and candidates. But the more you are prepared to answer and ask questions, the greater the likelihood this next move will be an optimal one for you and the firm you are joining. Consider the approach detailed below regarding the research, preparation and vetting activities associated with a lateral partner move.
Starting the Process
Begin your process by evaluating your current firm. Make a list of what is attractive about — and lacking in — your firm’s platform. Next, develop a chart containing a list of “must-haves” in a new firm, and add the names of firms whose platforms appear to provide what your practice needs. At this stage, it can be beneficial to enlist the help of a trusted adviser such as a close colleague or an attorney-search consultant with deep knowledge of the local market.
During the interview process, many firms will ask you to provide a business plan that projects future growth of your practice. Consider developing a business plan during this preparation stage. It will help you sell your practice down the road. Begin by listing your portable clients and the collections for each during the past three-five years.
Compensation is among the most important things you should be prepared to discuss. Most firms will pay lateral partners on a fixed deal for 18-24 months and then compensate them in the partnership array going forward. That deal typically includes a base compensation plus incentives on originations and individual timekeeper receipts. Be clear in your mind about what you want as base compensation and how much of the “risk” you are willing to share in the form of incentive compensation.
Finally, devise an elevator speech about your practice and what you are seeking in a move. As you develop a deeper understanding of the market and how the market perceives your value, you should re-evaluate and refine your speech.
Testing the Waters
Even if you have a sizable book of business, devising a way to promote yourself to other firms can be a daunting experience. Either you will reach out to firms on your own or you will partner with an attorney search consultant to make the initial inquiry. To grab the interest of other law firms, you should provide this basic information:
· A current resume or website bio (or both);
· A brief explanation of why you want to leave your current firm;
· An explanation of why this firm interests you (help the new firm to infer synergies with its practice);
· A three-year history of collections for your portable clients;
· A three-year history of your billable and non-billable hours;
· Your current standard and alternative billing rates;
· Your career moves (and explanations, where necessary); and
· A list of key clients, if asked (used to determine if there are any obvious conflicts).
Tackling the First Interview
If a law firm is interested in learning more about you, it will schedule an initial meeting. Preparation for each firm interview is important. You should research the firm, its practice areas and the lawyers/professionals you will be meeting. Bring a list of your clients and your historical collections (for your reference and not necessarily for distribution) to help you talk about your business.
Be prepared to answer questions about anything listed on your bio and resume. Also, be prepared to answer questions designed to confirm or explore the initial information you provided. Most important, be prepared to answer the “why our firm” questions and “are you a value-add” questions. Below are some examples of questions you will be expected to answer in your interviews. If you have made multiple moves every several years, be prepared to go through each move and discuss why you left. Be as positive about your prior firms as possible.
Why Our Firm?
· What do you know about our firm, our business model and our clients?
· Tell us about your current firm, what’s missing from your current platform and what you hope to find at our firm that might support and expand your business.
· Do you see any obvious conflicts with your practice and our clients?
· If you joined our firm, would you want to bring other lawyers? If not, what type of support associate and other support would you need?
Are You a Value-Add?
· How do you envision adding value to our firm?
· What is your client mix, what are the types of cases/deals are you working on and what is your role in each? Does your realization rate differ for each client?
· Which of your clients do you believe will follow you and why?
· What is your current caseload and what are your projections for the growth of your practice?
· Do you have a business plan? If yes, are you willing to share it with us? If not, can you tell us in general your plans to develop business?