Martineau Johnson: Lateral thinking

Hiring laterals is often a risky business. The different cultures of law firms means HR has to be sensitive to the shock of changing firms, both for the new partner and their expectant team at the new law firm.

Diane Price, head of HR at Martineau Johnson, argues that social contact is key. The partner must be given the opportunity to bond with their team, even before they start. “You have to invite the partners not just to an assessment, but to come and meet people, to get to know them,” says Price. “It’s a two-way process and it takes time. But this way people start easily and quickly.”

If you are having trouble getting partners to gel at your firm, the problem could be present even before the first interview gets underway. Price has found that third-party interviews, with an external assessor, give her an objective psychological profile of the candidate. Using this as a guide, Price can judge more clearly whether a particular partner would be a good fit at the firm.

Price says: “We put them through selective interviews by an external examiner, who tries to find out what motivates them. It’s not a psychometric test, but it can be similar.”

Price expects to see more CVs of promising senior associates from City firms finding their way onto her desk in the future. She believes that the large international firms have got to the point where they cannot satisfy the ambitions of all their associates, who then seek opportunities in smaller ponds. This works to the advantage of mid-sized firms, such as Martineaus, which encounter a different problem – succession planning.

“We see that more and more people have to work for longer and longer,” says Price. “People will want to work part time and we have to offer flexibility. There isn’t a definite cut-off anymore.”

More experienced partners who wish to carry on working can be kept on as consultants to act as mentors to the younger generation. This, she says, is a useful tactic for keeping your best people, young and old.