Lateral hires are on the rise, which means law firm leaders must review their due diligence practices, especially when considering prospects who seem too good to be true. There are a number of now crucial areas in which to concentrate your due diligence:
The reasons why individual or group of attorney candidates are leaving their present firm. Considering all that you may know about the practice of law, the current legal marketplace, and the reputations of other members of the candidates' firms, how comfortable are you with their reasons? Do they make sense? What is the likelihood that the same conditions will surface at your firm?
Candidates' practice areas and client bases. Who are the candidates' clients, by name and by industry? (BCG Attorney Search's experience suggests that if one particular client accounts for more than 15% of a candidate's gross revenue, that candidate may be a risky choice.) What specific types of work do candidates perform for each of their top 10 or 15 key clients? If it is litigation, how long will the matter(s) continue? What will replace this work when it is completed? Is the candidate the principal contact for these clients? How much of the work does the candidate perform himself or herself, as opposed to work performed by other partners or associates?
Possible responses of clients to their lawyers' move to your firm. Which clients does the candidate expect to follow him or her? What are their annual billings? How dependent is the candidate on these particular clients? How will the candidate complement the firm's practice? To what extent will conflicts of client or business interests affect the candidate's contribution to the firm?
Financial profiles of candidates. BCG Attorney Search's work with law firms across the U.S. leads us to believe that although firm leaders can generally find financial data and management information about candidates, they tend to ignore it and focus their attention on the current year, especially if it's been particularly profitable.
BCG Attorney Search's recommendation: Review prospects' three-year track records to discern trends in their financial profile. For example, what have been the candidate's actual performance statistics over that period? Also note candidates' realized hourly rates over the past three years. What to ask:
How do these realized rates compare to those charged by your firm?
How will the candidate's clients react to your firm's hourly rates?
Is it realistic to expect a candidate with lower hourly rates to sustain an increase that's compatible with rates charged by your firm's attorneys?
How much work in process does this candidate currently have? Has this amount been increasing or decreasing over the past three years?
What are the candidate's total and aged accounts receivable? Have these amounts been increasing or decreasing for each of the past three years?
How much of the candidate's recorded time has he or she usually written down or off?
How much of associates' time has the candidate usually written down or off?
How much pro bono does the candidate perform?
How much new business has the candidate generated within the past three years?
How much repeat business has the candidate generated within the past three years?
Financial health of prospects' key clients. Consider: Has the candidate's practice from his or her large clients been growing or declining?
Have the amounts of work in process and accounts receivable from top clients been increasing, leveling off, or declining?
Has the aging of work in process and receivables from key clients been increasing, leveling off, or declining?
What is the economic future of the candidate's practice area from these ongoing clients?
What is the economic future of the candidate's most profitable clients? Personal and professional backgrounds of clients. Ask;
Can you verify the credentials listed on the candidate's resume?
Can you confirm that the candidate possesses the actual experience he or she purports to have. (Get the opinion of your firm members on this.)
Does the candidate have a good reputation?
Is the candidate working on client matters that may be perceived as damaging to your firm?
Are there any known complaints or proceedings pending against the candidate?
Are there any known complaints or proceedings pending against other parties the candidate has been associated with in any capacity?
Is the candidate aware of any ongoing investigations involving himself or herself?
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