How to Identify Lateral Attorneys Capable of Becoming Good Partners |

How to Identify Lateral Attorneys Capable of Becoming Good Partners


Print/Download PDF

Font Size

Rate this article

87 Reviews Average: 3.9 out of 5

Today, most lateral associates enter their new firms with the understanding that the position is actually an opportunity to audition for the role of partner. In the best-case scenario, at the end of the experience, firms are able to identify those with the skills needed to enhance firm profits and advance in a reasonable amount of time. In BCG Attorney Search's estimation, it's always prudent for law firm leaders re-evaluate the traits their individual organizations find desirable—particularly since such characteristics are apt to change along with the firm's needs. Developing an informal list and then checking potential lateral hires against it can help firms avoid serious financial implications caused when a once-promising prospect later turns out to be a ''bad fit.''
How to Identify Lateral Attorneys Capable of Becoming Good Partners

Of course, the ranges of subjective criteria used by firms to identify associates who will make a "good fit" don't necessarily show up on official evaluation forms. In the past, these criteria were most often based on the lateral associate's potential for technical excellence. But changes in the profession—including increased competition, diversification, and the need for practice development skills—now have many firms seeking a different kind of standard to apply. Such criteria can vary depending on the kind of practice, the firm's strategic plan, its culture, and the like. But whatever the measure, when combined with standard evaluations, identifying those who possess the following traits will assist in separating the potential partners from all the rest. What to look for when screening lateral associates:
  1. Ingenuity. Law firms can no longer afford to retain (and, ultimately, support) "employee-type" practitioners. Excellent lateral candidates on the associate level are often the people who don't wait for others to take the initiative, are eager to assist with client and firm problems, and work closely with other practitioners as well as the firm's non-lawyer staff.
  2. Respect and professionalism. Most law firms now want potential partners who will have the credibility with professional staff needed to make staff feel good about their contributions. This is especially important for younger staff members who are unlikely to stay if they see that the firm consistently brings laterals on board for whom they would be reluctant o work.
  3. Interpersonal skills. Although few firms expect lateral associates to arrive with large books of business, now more than ever, potential partners must have the one trait that make client development skills attainable—the ability to relate well to a diverse group of people in general. This is especially true in firms where older rainmaking partners are nearing retirement and want assurances that the generation that follows will retain the client base needed to fund their retirement. So a key question to consider is: Will this person go on to develop good relationships with existing clients and prospects?
  4. Cooperation. Does the lateral operate separately without interacting regularly with his/her peers? This may indicate a lack of potential for the diversification of services that the profession now demands and an inability to accept the now essential team-oriented approach to legal matters.
  5. Computer and technology skills. All lateral associates should be comfortable with today's technology. And, contrary to popular opinion, not all new associates are. Not knowing or being unwilling to learn the technical skills that clients demand will ultimately be an obstacle.
  6. Leadership. Of all these informal criteria, leadership is the most important. To assess a lateral prospect's skills and capabilities in this area, some firms use a leadership inventory profile. Administered by a psychologist, it identifies strengths and weaknesses so that otherwise strong candidates can see where they need to improve.

How your firm's existing partners can help. It is, of course, the responsibility of partners to assist with the groundwork that allows lateral associates to shine. Partners must offer all lateral hires guidance, provide opportunities to lead, and enhance their overall knowledge through mentoring in the ways of your law firm. For instance: Many law firms now take definitive steps to get their lateral associates out into the legal community to watch their home-grown attorneys in action. In some instances, new hires are required to follow partners to depositions and court appearances, as well transactional deals and negotiations.

Law firm recruitment staff can assist in the process by ensuring that their long-range partner-development plans include at least some of the following training options:
  • In-house seminars on leadership and management by partners or outside consultants. This training is as important as CLE.
  • Expanded orientation. Turn it into an ongoing process of education.
  • Mentoring programs that work. It's always easier said than done. But personal attention and contact will ensure that potential partners receive the degree of attention that is needed for current owners to recoup their investment in new talent.
  • Seminars in which the managing partner offers training pointers in leadership and management. Not every partner needs to know how to run the administrative side of the firm, but chances are your firm's managing partner has a lot to share that could help associates work on the skills needed to serve as a leader/manager.
  • Ways to identify lateral associates with partnership potential early and often. Partner-in-training programs—some of which span two years—are excellent preparation for all the firm's associates. Send strong candidates to a leadership programs. Get them involved in client meetings. And give them training in the psychology of dealing with clients.
Interested in Learning More About Legal Hiring? Read the Definitive Guide:

How to Hire a Legal Recruiter for Your Law Firm: How Law Firms Recruit Attorneys Using Legal Recruiters

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog,, and, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

AGREE/DISAGREE? SHARE COMMENTS ANONYMOUSLY! We Want to Hear Your Thoughts! Tell Us What You Think!!

Related Articles

We've changed thousands of lives over the past 20 years, and yours could be next.

When you use BCG Attorney Search you will get an unfair advantage because you will use the best legal placement company in the world for finding permanent law firm positions.