The formula for lateral hire success

Two years ago Mark Brandon, the founder of Motive Legal Consultancy, exclusively provided The Lawyer with innovative research into the UK’s partner recruitment market.

Matt Byrne

Brandon analysed the fates of 1,944 lateral partner moves over a five-year period, and asked a simple question: was each individual partner lateral hire made during the specified period still working for the firm?

His data revealed the astonishing fact that within three years of joining, a third of all partners leave their firm. After five years that figure jumps to 44 per cent.

Brandon now conducts his research annually and this year, once again, he has revealed the critical data in The Lawyer. It is required reading for any law firm leader with an eye on pursuing a growth strategy based on lateral hires.

As Brandon reveals in this week’s feature (see page 18), “failure rates remain persistently high”. Of the 2,763 London partner hires made between 2005 and 2012 that he analysed, 32 per cent were no longer with the same firm.

Anyone running a US firm should take note: failure rates among US firms in the UK are about a third higher than at their domestic rivals.

What is interesting in the research is the extent to which the specialism of the recruited partner, and the cultures of their former home and their new shop, plays a part in the longevity of their stay.

Transactional areas such as corporate and finance are among the toughest to hire partners successfully, while 80 per cent of real estate partners hired in 2005 have since moved on. In contrast, specialist areas such as EC/competition, financial services and IP appear to be more reliable areas to beef up.

The key question raised by the stark statistics is why are so many partner lateral hires simply not working out? According to Brandon, more thought on both sides about the realities of the deal wouldn’t hurt. Recruitment consultants also come in for some pithy criticism from Brandon – himself a former recruiter.

Lateral hires often look like such a good idea on paper, but sometimes they just don’t add up.