Averting Fail-hires

Five steps to transitioning your laterals

In the last two blogs we have looked at avoiding fail-hires from the selection and lateral perspective. This month we look at the essential transition steps every business should take in order to ensure your lateral hires turn into lateral good-fits.

So you have selected, negotiated, decided and your new brand-spanking lateral hire is inside the door. So what now?

  • A few hours with IT to ensure they can access mails, precedents, policies, the intranet, client info and use the time recording system? Yes
  •  A few hours with BD to tell them how the firm markets? Yes, but not enough.
  •  A chat with a senior partner to chat about strategy and a few things you didn’t want to mention in the selection process? Getting dangerously lax already.
  •  A lunch with the partners in the department organised by the new secretary in order to get fully transitioned into the group? This is a complacent step too far.

So all ready then? All set for a fail-hire in six months and, according to deWinton-Williams analysis, a loss in excess of £I million in terms of search expenses, wasted time, reduced speed on practice building and, potentially, your lateral leaving very soon, taking with them the potential fees.

The above transition is typical of a partnership where the expectation is that a good lawyer will make a good transition. And when it goes wrong, like so many divorcees, they plough on and make the same mistakes all over again by putting hope above experience. We are sorry to be blunt, but it is time partnerships woke up and sniffed the aroma of the coffee their clients smelled years ago.

There is one primary reason that lateral hires get it wrong and fail: no-one bothers to assist them in getting it right. When any human being arrives in a new environment, with new rules, new people, new processes and expectations they are under stress. Stressed humans resort to old behaviours which have brought success in the past – they return to habit. However, if these established behaviours do not fit the new business culture they are soon labelled as ‘not fitting in’. The reality is that they do not know the rules of the game in order to play with the team.

So what can partnerships learn from their more enlightened clients?

1.       Transition coaching. This is more than a few hours with a coach chatting about how they are going to build a practice. Real transition coaching needs to be a structured process in which the partner sets out a plan for networking across the firm; learning and adjusting to the culture; creating a plan for building a practice involving other partner and setting goals for the first year which will be understood and supported by fellow partners. Transition coaching should continue for the first six months and the coach should have access to the departmental head, HR and other supporting stakeholders in order to ensure the coaching is addressing any bumps along the road.

2.       Mentoring. The lateral hire needs an internal wise head who will explain the culture, give advice on how to approach and work with various people and ‘characters’; input to ideas and answer all those apparently ‘stupid’ questions.

3.       Socialising. Human beings get on better when they relax together and get to know the person under the façade. A single lunch with your colleagues will not break the ice. Instead, there needs to be a series of coffees, lunches, drinks and other social interactions with people across the firm in order to find common ground both professionally and personally. Yes, this takes time, but the social integration pays dividends very quickly.

4.       Planning. Most professionals work best to a plan they know is supported. Lateral hires need support in creating a first year plan which will set out reasonable goals for building their practice, their team, their profile and their role in the firm. A sensible firm will work to limit ambition to goals which have high likelihood of success and not go along with the person’s natural inclination to prove themselves with unrealistic goals.

5.       Checking. A monthly ‘how is it going?’ discussion with a head of department, if managed well, will avert the worst of mistakes. It is essential that these meetings are supportive and positive, focusing on how the lateral is transitioning and what assistance they need. In addition, they must be frank and address any issues or niggles. It is simply fairer to tell a person quickly they are getting it wrong than to humiliate after four months when everybody has noticed and the behaviour has been interpreted as personality rather than mis-understanding. In some instances, it might be well worth combining the transition coaching with this meeting.

6.       Spotting saboteurs. It is not unusual for the arrival of a successful and eager partner to ruffle the feathers of the existing cohort. However, when discomfort moves to signs of deliberate derailing, the firm needs to step in. A threatened ego is no good reason for a firm to lose money and reputation. While it might be difficult, senior partners need to step in and assert their influence. We understand that lawyers, despite their brilliance in a profession based in conflict (or avoiding it), would rather remove their own appendix than face up to interpersonal dispute. However, this is no time to assume everything will settle down under the carpet.

So in short, ensuring your lateral is a success-hire will take some time, a little money and a lot of thought. However, the dividends will certainly show themselves when partners look at their new colleague and say it feels as though they have always been part of the firm; when plans convert to fees and when your firm has a reputation for retaining the best.