Avoiding the Fail-hire trap

Top tips for a successful lateral move

Last month we looked at how firms can increase the likely of success for lateral hires by strengthening their selection processes. In this blog we look at the five big mistakes and how to avoid them if you do not want to join the 33% of lateral hires who move on quickly.

First, give yourself a break. When Homes and Rahe did their research into the stress caused by life events the following all come into the top 20:

·         Business readjustment

·         Change in financial state

·         Change to different line of work

·         Change in responsibilities at work

·         Change in working hours or conditions

All of these are present to some extent when you move firms or move up into a new career stage.  At deWinton-Williams, we have worked with hundreds of lateral hire professionals – both individuals and whole teams – and there is a consistent pattern of mistakes which are easily avoidable. All of them are understandable, but keeping to the following rules will increase your likelihood of a successful transition.

1.       Under-promise and over-deliver

Too many lateral hires, especially lawyers, feel they need to ‘sell themselves’ through their portfolio. In an attempt to please a prospective new firm, they make all manner of assertions that they can bring great clients and even poach the best of their current firm’s associates. Then they arrive and the clients do not follow. Instant shame and discomfort as your new partners show their disappointment. Far better to discuss and agree how you will build a practice over two years. If clients follow make them a bonus not a given on which you depend. Likewise, it is unwise to suggest you will reach your current billings within a year. You will have a period of readjustment and will need time to build up.

2.       Never say ‘In my last firm we…’

This is one of the big sins! When you join a new firm you have to adjust to new processes, working practices and policies. The frustration of adapting can make your old firm seem both easier and better. This is unlikely – it was just familiar. However, if you keep telling your new colleagues what you used to do so well, they can only take this as a criticism. Far better to ask questions, understand and adapt. You can make suggestions later – when you are inside the fold and not trying to join it. If you have that urge to ‘show them how it is done’, you are on a fast track to stress.

3.       Network

All too many lateral hires are so focused on bringing in fees, they forget the people side. The result is that their partners continue to see them as strangers – and strangers are easy to criticise. Even worse, if you do not understand your co-partners practices you are in danger of stepping on toes. Far better to take a few weeks to ensure you meet people, show interest, ask questions, see if there are ways of collaborating (ensure there is an advantage to the other person here) and just become professional friends. This needs to extend to business services as well as fee earners – you will not build your practice without them.

4.       Give more than you take

It is easy to want to keep your contacts, your leads, your little black book of clients – especially if you have set high expectations. However, sharing for the good of the firm will get you far more kudos than coveting your contacts.  Also, attend all social event. Supporting your new partners will be a clear sign of being un-threatening.

5.       Give yourself time

Yes, you want to impress – but you also need to stay strong. Adjusting to a new job with all the pressure you are inevitably going to put upon yourself, can take its toll. This is a time of life to ensure you are manging your resilience through diet, sleep, exercise and relaxation.  Also, accept that you will not know everything and you are bound to get things wrong from time to time. Guess what? You may be a professional but you are also human. Ask questions rather than assume; be guided rather than having to have the answer; and, if you get it wrong – just say sorry.


In short, give yourself a chance and you are more likely to be in the successful few than the stressed.