Tips for Better Law Firm Lateral Hiring
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Summary: Hiring lateral associates is time-consuming and expensive, which is why it’s important to do it right. 


Hiring lateral associates is a great way to fill in your law firm’s practice gaps, but the entire cost is expensive in time and money. Because of this investment and the effect new attorneys have on company culture, it’s important that law firms do the process right, and the following tips can help firms get the best results.

TIP 1: Don’t skip out on due diligence.

There are thousands of lateral moves in law firms annually. While most new hires work out well, some firms have suffered from bringing on lateral associates who misrepresented information in interviews or resumes. Common misrepresentations include the size of one’s book of business, practice specialities, or licenses. Because these unqualified attorneys do not actually meet the firm’s needs, firms lose more money and time when they are forced to do the search again; and worse, they could have prevented the problem with due diligence.

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Harrison Barnes of BCG Attorney Search has helped thousands of attorneys find lateral work, and he is an expert in the hiring process. He recommends that all firms conduct due diligence when hiring. This means asking the right questions during interviews, investigating candidate claims, and verifying information.

‘The challenge for law firms is to develop a system that allows this information to be collected accurately, completely, in a timely fashion, without disrupting the hiring process and without becoming unduly burdensome or oppressive for the firm or for the candidate,” Barnes said.

While firms could perform the due diligence themselves, it is often a good idea to hire an experienced third party to help with this arduous task.

TIP 2: Be flexible.

The competition for hiring experienced attorneys is high, especially for transaction attorneys; and firms wanting to hire laterally should consider being flexible, meaning grades and the pedigree of the law school should be de-emphasized. During the 2009 and 2010 economic depression, almost 10,000 attorneys were laid off from top American firms, and law student enrollment was on the decline. This has led to thousands of attorneys missing from the talent pool, which is why firms have a hard time filling midlevel positions. Thus, it is a good idea for firms to stay open minded and look for an experienced attorney who fits what they are looking for, instead of a candidate who is perfect on paper.

TIP 3: Bypass headhunters and employee referrals, and hire a legal placement firm.

The two most common ways for a law firm to find the right candidates is through headhunters and employee referrals, and both methods have positives and negatives.

Headhunters interview potential candidates beforehand and then set them up with law firms. Once a hire is made, the headhunter collects a percentage of the attorney’s salary. For a law firm looking to hire lateral associates, this method may be easier of the two, but a common complaint about headhunters is that they care more about a quick sale than actually taking the time to find the right fit.

The second method to obtain lateral attorneys is through referrals. Law firms incentivize employees with bonuses to refer their qualified friends. While the bonuses are often less than a headhunter fee, law firms end up spending a large amount of time interviewing, and the interview process requires a high level of screening skills. If the firm’s interviewer lacks these skills, for instance, he or she may not be able to suss out attorneys who misrepresent things such as the reason for their lateral move or their past experience.

Luckily, a third option exists for better law firm lateral hiring and that is the legal placement firm. Legal placement firms such as BCG Attorney Search serve a similar function as a headhunter, but it also acts as career advisors to its attorney clients, which means that they care more about finding a good match than a quick one. For example, BCG consults with attorneys before taking them on as clients, making sure they are ready for a lateral move, and BCG verifies its clients’ experience, ensuring that law firms end up with the right fit for their needs.

For more information about BCG Attorney Search, see their website.


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