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Law Practice Today


Lateral Partners and Their Missing Books of Business

Rachel Silverman


  • Follow these five keys to help your laterals bring in business.
Lateral Partners and Their Missing Books of Business Chernetska

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Your new lateral partner is a superstar. She has decades of experience in high levels of government or at a major corporation and brings the unique perspective your clients are looking for. The news that she’s coming on board will shine a spotlight on your firm and your expanding industry focus. This unicorn is the whole package and she’s joining your firm. What could possibly go wrong?

There’s just one thing she’s missing when she walks in the door: A substantial book of business. Maybe any business. Because where she comes from, her career didn’t depend on portable clients. She has unparalleled industry knowledge and a Rolodex full of contacts (it’s a thing, Google it), but translating all that into tangible business and successfully incorporating it into the firm is a sizeable challenge. The reality is that 30% of laterals leave their new firm within five years, and 40% of laterals will fail to integrate at all.

This doesn’t mean laterals from in-house or government are a bad idea. Bringing in that kind of talent and experience can be a game-changer. If you want to maximize your ROI and minimize the learning curve, here are five keys to the successful integration of any lateral partner.

Sharing is caring

You (I hope) did a thorough, data-supported analysis to justify the business case for bringing your new partner on board. Now it’s time to share the relevant details, including goals and objectives, with the broader team. Will the firm be launching a new practice, sub-practice, or industry group? Will existing groups see a shift in focus or leadership? Have relevant budgets and supporting infrastructure been identified? Failing to be transparent can leave the new lateral, and the team, accountable for her success, feeling blindsided and playing catch-up. In addition, it’s important to ensure the lateral and key team members see existing relevant practice group and industry group plans so that everyone is working toward the same goals.

Early risers

Successful integration needs to begin long before your new partner walks in the door. Just as you implement administrative details in advance – the press release will be written, a new office will be waiting for her—a focus on the business development strategy and integration needs to begin early too. Start conversations as early as possible (while being mindful of applicable ethics rules) about strategic connections and incorporating the new lateral, as well as relevant practice and industry groups, into ongoing marketing and business development efforts. Don’t forget to include any upcoming retreats, road shows, conferences, client events, and newsletter publications. Review integration plan templates to be sure to address business development in the early phases.

Present and accounted for

The team responsible for the integration and success of your new lateral should include key members from across the firm—attorneys, HR, marketing, business development, PR & communications, technology, and others. And it should be a true team, engaged from the beginning and accountable for the duration of the lateral’s ramp-up. The best-intentioned integration partners cannot do it alone, and a first-class marketing, technology, and business development team cannot support efforts they don’t know enough about. Share project plans and timelines, and schedule regular check-ins so that all team members are held accountable and kept up to date on progress.

Plan A

All laterals, and especially laterals new to private practice, must develop a strategic business development plan with clear goals and objectives. Pairing your new lateral with a BD professional or outside coach who can help create an individual plan and action steps to advance it is critical, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted by partners who are already successful in private practice. Dedicated BD support and coaching can help at any stage, but they are a valuable selling point during the recruiting phase and are most effective when presented as a matter of course from the outset for all laterals. Waiting until a plan seems to be off track to bring in dedicated support has the potential to be seen as punitive. A true coaching culture, common in law firms today, proactively embraces the benefits.

Wait for it

Managing expectations for a realistic ramp-up is critical. Developing business takes time, and collaborating with colleagues who have their own clients and books of business to develop can present challenges. Having a plan will help you measure success, stay focused on goals, and keep moving forward. And the support of a multi-department team will keep momentum strong. Success takes dedication and time, but with the right strategic plan, realistic goals, and a great team in your corner, your new partner is bound to be a rainmaker.