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July192022

Integrating A Lateral Group – Onboarding, Connecting, and Growing

John Fitzgerald, CPA

7.19.22 | Practice Made Perfect

Once a law firm completes the complex process of identifying, vetting, and securing an ideal lateral group, discussed in Growth Through Laterals — Supersize It, it has now reached the critical stage of the transaction: Integrating the team into the Firm. If done correctly, bringing in a lateral group can lead to positive growth; however, if not, the potential disruption to the Firm and its culture can result in the costs outweighing the benefits.

Onboarding

To bring lateral hires effectively into a firm, a robust onboarding process needs to be implemented and should include:

  • Identify with the lateral group how they fit into the Firm’s strategic plan so it can be communicated effectively, internally and externally
  • Scheduled meetings with current Partners, Executive Leadership, and Practice Group Leaders
  • Scheduled meetings with Leaders of Administrative/Operational Departments, including Human Resources, Finance, IT, and Marketing
  • An appointed integration coordinator to ensure that there are no missed steps and all members of the lateral group are integrated effectively
  • Mentors for junior members of the lateral team to have as a single go-to point for advice, questions, and concerns
  • Regular check-ins with lateral attorneys
  • A clear depiction of the leadership responsibilities for the lateral attorneys that will be assuming leadership roles within the Firm

These items are essential during onboarding to reduce the level of discomfort and disruption as much as possible during the initial transition period.

For a seamless transition to take place, firms also need to make sure that the lateral attorneys have the tools they need to hit the ground running—including essential technology, office supplies, assigned office locations, contact information, and appropriate marketing materials. Providing the lateral group with this level of support even prior to their arrival will emphasize the investment the Firm is making in them. If the lateral group is launching a new or enhancing an existing practice area, it is also of paramount importance to their onboarding process to develop a marketing strategy and provide an appropriate budget for your Marketing Department to be able to assist the lateral group to effectively promote their areas of expertise and introduce the Firm’s brand to their networks.

Building Connections within the Firm

It is important to note that laterals that fit into the Firm’s core areas of business will be less difficult to integrate than those who will be launching a new practice area. Nevertheless, in both cases, connecting laterals with current attorneys with whom they will work and collaborate is essential to their successful integration. Two benefits of having the integration coordinator take the time to provide personal introductions and ensure the laterals are meeting with the professionals, both legal and administrative, whom they will likely work with the most, are that:

  1. it will help integrate the laterals into the Firm, and
  2. engage current attorneys to become more acquainted with their new team members and facilitate the relationship-building process.

Helping facilitate informal one-on-one lunches where the lateral attorneys can truly get to know the individuals within the Firm and, perhaps, identify common interests, both professional and personal, could also go a long way in building connections quickly.

If possible, hosting a partner dinner or office reception for the laterals can also serve as a great way to welcome the new attorneys and show Executive Leadership’s support and backing. Finally, ensuring that the lateral attorneys are invited to join the appropriate practice groups as well as any other relevant firmwide special interest groups or teams—including any diversity, equity, inclusion committees or employee resource groups—will help the new attorneys build their internal networks as well as quickly get involved in culture-based activities and initiatives that are shaping the Firm.

Facilitating Cross-Selling

One of the best ways to build connections and foster a successful integration is to help facilitate cross-selling activities between the lateral group and existing attorneys. To do this, it is essential that the lateral attorneys are able to effectively communicate why their move to the new firm will help them better serve their clients and how their new team will provide their clients with opportunities and additional expertise to help them achieve their business and strategic objectives.

Similarly, the laterals and the Firm’s Executive Leadership Team should help the existing partners construct their messaging about the Firm’s newest attorneys and what their expertise means for the Firm and the clients it serves. Law firm leaders should also create and distribute a clear and compelling message to the entire firm that effectively communicates what the addition of new attorneys means strategically for the Firm, its partners, and its clients. This message should then be leveraged to coach attorneys throughout the Firm in communicating it to their clients as a proactive way to cross sell the lateral group’s expertise. Firms should consider implementing a formal pipeline meeting process to assist in this process and can even look to offer some new business incentives for non-partner attorneys to help drive this effort.

In addition to developing effective internal and external messaging, lateral attorneys should be held accountable to collaborate with Practice and Account Team Leaders (and vice versa) to identify synergies within their client bases that they can leverage to develop a collaborative go-to-market strategy.

Developing a Business Plan

The onboarding has gone well, and connections between the lateral group and the Firm’s other attorneys are starting to develop; now what? Well, the next important step in any lateral group integration is helping them be successful in bringing in and growing business. While ingraining them into the Firm’s culture and connecting them to colleagues within the organization are all essential steps, the integration will not be successful if the lateral attorneys do not eventually add to the Firm’s growth.

With that said, the onus is not just on the laterals in this step. It is paramount that the Firm, and its Executive Leadership Team, provide them with a mission, clear expectations, and goals, as well as the resources, tools, and motivation to help them achieve those goals. It starts with developing a business plan, which should clearly define agreed-upon goals and objectives for the lateral group. The plan should align with the messaging discussed with the lateral group during the recruiting and negotiation process and should include financial goals as well as business development and internal marketing and integration goals, such as:

  • Revenue goals for the lateral group’s existing clients
  • Revenue goals for cross selling the Firm’s services to the lateral group’s existing clients
  • Revenue goals for prospective clients
  • Revenue goals for cross selling to the Firm’s existing clients
  • Billable hour goals
  • Business development hour goals
  • Internal practice development, growth, and management goals

It is important to keep all the goals, especially financial ones, realistic and achievable. Overreaching expectations invite failure, which will likely impact motivation. It is also essential to support the business plan with a marketing and business development plan, which should correlate with the Firm’s overall marketing and business development plan. Developing a formal plan will also help manage the Firm’s expectations, as it is common for lateral group integrations to take longer than originally projected.

Monitoring and Measuring Progress and Success

Successful integration and retention require time, and it is essential that firms make a long-term commitment to their new laterals, as it typically takes 18-24 months for a lateral partner to begin to pick up some steam and start feeling integrated. To help this process during the first two years, the Firm should employ metrics to track performance. Doing this enables the Firm to get an early indication of potential concerns, extraordinary success, and anything in between. The laterals themselves may find the metrics valuable and use them to refine their own integration approaches, while the Firm may use the data for mid-course corrections or to deploy more resources into efforts that are bearing the most fruit initially and/or have clear, long-term potential.

Providing laterals with direction and support during this time is essential. And while all firms are looking for immediate results that impact the bottom line, Firm Leadership needs to resist the temptation to judge success or failure too early. Firms that can fight this and are genuinely committed to following a strategic process and plan are more likely to experience a lower lateral turnover rate and more likely to realize the growth potential associated with bringing in a lateral group.

The insights provided in this, and Growth Through Laterals — Supersize It, can help firms build the framework for the successful assessment, onboarding, cultivation, and growth of a lateral practice. In today’s competitive and labor-strained environment, considering a lateral group acquisition as part of the Firm’s overall strategy and direction may help position the Firm for the future and jumpstart it to a higher and more profitable level.

Questions? Contact John Fitzgerald at 212.331.7411 | jfitzgerald@berdonllp.com.

Berdon LLP New York Accountants

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