Lateral damage: failed hires cost London dear

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  • @Rob. Thanks, the name rang a bell, will take a good look!

    @'Tower': culture is absolutely key, and you're right to bring up the word 'family' (though I tend to use 'clan'). Alas as firms attempt to corporatise their approach, many of the benefits of clan/family are left behind, yet very little attempt is made to try to transition people from one mindset to another. This is a fascinating area for me.

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  • Perhaps one of the (I am sure various) reasons for the lack of "stick" in laterals is that leopards don't change their spots - candidates will be the same people they were before and after the move, and despite what firms may like to think the fundamentals and pressures involved in the partnership role are much the same from one firm to the other.
    A partner who is looking to move from one London firm to another is doing so because s/he is for one reason or another unhappy with the current firm. The grass is actually quite rarely significantly greener on the other side of the fence, and 5 years is long enough for that to become apparent and the next set of greener grass to grow.
    Firms recruiting need to reality-check themselves about why the candidate wants to move - not just what they will bring to the new firm, but whether the new firm is in practice going to offer the candidate the panacea from whatever woes have incentivised him or her to leave their current firm. It will be quite rare that a candidate will live up to the name and be candid about the true reasons for departing their current firm during the interviewing and wooing process (because they still owe duties of confidentiality and ties of loyalty to the existing firm, and because the proposed move might not take place!)

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  • There is a lot of truth in that, although it's worth saying that many people don't choose to move - one headhunter I spoke to reckons a third of the candidates they see are being forced to move by their firms, and I reckon the proportion is greater once you add in all those people who feel as if they need to move, perhaps having seen the writing on the wall or having hit a career roadblock.
    In addition, it's not just the candidate playing cover-up during the interview process; law firms are just as bad at that, which can lead to some nasty surprises when a partner arrives, by which time it's all far too late.
    If candidate and firm were a lot more honest during the process I imagine far fewer moves would take place, but maybe more of them would succeed! I suspect the answer, as with many things, lies somewhere in the middle...

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  • Firms are looking for milk cows. And the cow better produce milk instantly. Firms, because of financial pressures, do not stick with their investments beyond at best the medium term.
    That said, there are firms thaat also do not stick to their side of the bargain, leaving the lateral in the lurch.

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  • I find this kind of view to be unhealthy: "one headhunter I spoke to reckons a third of the candidates they see are being forced to move by their firms, and I reckon the proportion is greater once you add in all those people who feel as if they need to move, perhaps having seen the writing on the wall or having hit a career roadblock."
    This attitude prevents people from leaving places where they may be quite content, but where they see better opportunities elsewhere, as anyone who wants to move 'must clearly be defective'. Not all firms are the same, and during my training contract it became very clear that different departments within the same firm can have completely different atmospheres and working environments. To choose to leave one of the nastier departments certainly wouldn't have been a 'failure', and timing and demographics (i.e. how many more senior associates are there than you?) have just as much influence on a person's promotion prospects as their abilities as a lawyer.
    This 'promotion' concern doesn't just apply to associates, as some firms hold equity incredibly tightly whilst simultaneously being very reluctant to de-equitise underperforming incumbents.

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  • @Larry
    You make a fair point, and I was certainly not trying to say that all moves have to be seen as failures, far from it, there are good career reasons for moving, of course.
    I should have been clearer though. To clarify my original comment, I should have said "a third of partner candidates"; assistants and associates are rarely forced to move (given that you can simply sack or make them redundant).
    There is, I feel, still a deal of suspicion around many partner moves, especially if that partner has moved more than once. Partners still have to think quite carefully about how they explain their reasons for wanting to move as that can have a significant effect on what transpires down the line.

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  • Mark
    Great piece as ever. I just wanted to add two points from a partner recruiters' perspective:

    1. Good recruiters care deeply if a lateral partner hire fails. It impacts on our reputation and makes winning repeat business difficult. Clearly we are a fee driven business. But we also all rely on referrals and reputation and the best recruiters will always give honest advice - if that means telling a partner that they should stay put, so be it.

    2. To add some balance to the research, there have also been some massive success stories when it comes to partner recruitment and many law firms have prospered off the back of well executed lateral hiring programmes. Law firms carry on recruiting partners because it is the most effective way of winning market share in a fiercely competitive market for legal services.

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