These days most law firms are constantly on the lookout for groups of laterals in key practice areas. While there's no denying that a lateral strategy can work for the bottom line, law firm leaders will attest that it has its pitfalls.
Steps firms must take include:
- Reassure long-time firm members. Deal with any concerns that the new area, with its new people, will threaten the status of existing practices, partners, or associates.
- Integrate practices and staffs. Consider physical location: You may have to shift office assignments. Face-to-face contact in the early stages is crucial and should be supplemented by internal communications such as e-mail, newsletters, and memos. Have old and new staff work together, as their cooperation will ease the way for the new lawyers and prevent the polarization of recent arrivals.
- Assign "buddies" to your new hires. Give each partner, associate, and staff person a counterpart to go to with questions. Have assigned buddies take the new people around the firm, making introductions and explaining formal procedures. Encourage frequent contact, and keep the buddy relationship in operation for six months.
- Formally take on the responsibility of being the integrator or ombudsman. Otherwise, parts of the integration process will fall through the cracks. Firms typically place their marketing director, firm administrator, recruiting director, or HR director in this role. In any event, the managing partner, a member of senior management, or the marketing director (if the firm has one) should be closely involved. Internal and external marketing will be necessary to make the integration and cross-selling a success.
- Conduct formal presentations for partners and associates on the capabilities and accomplishments of the new lawyers and existing practice groups. Also, ask all groups to suggest opportunities for cross-selling and to state the help and support they'll need to pursue them. Preparing and making these presentations every time the firm adds new expertise has an additional benefit: It keeps everyone up to date on developments and capabilities firm wide and offers a forum for requesting help.