September Event Recap: Lateral Integration: The Marriage of Recruiting, Marketing & BD

By: Jessica Sharp, Principal at Maven Communications and LMA-MPC President 

On September 17th the Metro Philadelphia Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association gathered at Reed Smith to hear from representatives from Ballard Spahr, Morgan Lewis, and The Brumbaugh Group on best practices for lateral integration. The panel highlighted best practices from both firms as well as industry wide. Here are some of the highlights: 

Overall lateral integration is a big issue at firms across the country. Few have a true lateral integration process, which sets firms up for failure. In fact, while 96 percent of managing partners say lateral hiring is key to their strategy, only 28 percent admit that lateral hiring is actually effective. 

In 2014 there were 2,700 lateral moves within Big Law, which equates to 2,000 jumps within big law that didn’t work out. 

Failure to have a lateral integration strategy is costing law firms a considerable amount! According to the ABA, the cost to recruit one 1st year associate is $250,000 and cost to replace an experiences attorney is $400,000. With a 17% annual attorney attrition rate for law firms (NALP), combined with 46% of entry-level associates gone in three years, and 43% of lateral hires losing money for the firm, firms are looking at the annual cost of attrition for a 400-attorney firm to be around $27,200,000! If your firm is resistant to changing the system, just run these numbers by your COO. 

The Lateral Program at Ballard Spahr

At Ballard Spahr, the marketing team and recruiter spend a tremendous amount of time perfecting their lateral program. They take time to study the potential opportunities and are cautious. In fact, the firm only hires 10% of the people they interview. 

Like many firms, lateral recruiting is a big part of their business strategy. They are constantly looking at firm priorities and their business pipeline to inform their decision making process. 

Their strategic process includes considering all of the potential reasons to bring on a lateral, including:

  • Raising revenue
  • Adding bench depth to an office or practice group
  • Whether the lateral can offer something unique for the firm
  • How the later effects the firm’s footprint

There is also a tremendous amount of due diligence that happens before the move is made, including:  

  • Lateral Partner Questionnaire, which is an opportunity for the lateral to share where they see that they fit in.
  • Asking the lateral to answer “why Ballard?” Here they can demonstrate why they believe they will you fit in at the firm.
  • Creating a business case proposal for the board that demonstrates the business reason for this lateral hire.

Morgan Lewis Lateral Integration

Like Ballard Spahr, a big reason for the success of their lateral program is due to their focus on communication between departments, specifically marketing and recruiting. At Morgan Lewis they emphasize the importance of realizing that the lateral is coming to a new firm with a new culture that they may be completely different from their previous firm. Frequent communication, such as emails, phone calls, and even written letters, help to make him or her feel welcome and appreciated and ease the stress of the change.

Morgan Lewis also uses a strict protocol document, which is essentially a checklist of everything that needs to be done pre- and post-lateral hire. The checklist includes items such as drafting a press release, writing the website biography, creating the announcement card and making updates to the practice group description materials. 

The Importance of a Timeline

Both firms emphasized the importance of the arrival process and having a detailed timeline of activity. In fact, The Brumbaugh Group has developed  an acronym for the timeline: AMAX

A: Advance Planning

M: Messaging

A: Awareness

X: Execution/Follow through

Some timeline activities include:

  • Holding meetings with leadership and frontline facing managers to discuss the communications strategy and expectations for both the lateral and the firm.
  • Conduct a comparison of the lateral’s contacts against the firm’s contact list.
  • Determine any potential conflicts.  
  • Arrange to make appropriate introductions to clients.
  • Determine where the lateral can cross sell and schedule a time to introduce them to the Chair of the appropriate department.
  • Plan check-ins for up to 12 months post-lateral hire.

The most important thing to remember when crafting the timeline is to realize that the integration is something that continues well after the first few months. Plan for this and it has a much higher likelihood of being successful and lasting.

A HUGE thanks to our speakers at this event:

Michelle M. Maier

Director of Communications, Fox Rothschild LLP

Cathyann Bixby

Director of Lateral Growth & Integration, Ballard Spahr

Jocelyn Brumbaugh
Consultant at The Brumbaugh Group and founder of Legal PR Chicago

Lindsey Gilmour
Business Development Manager, Morgan Lewis

Despina Kartson 
Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer, Morgan Lewis

Amy Shepherd
Director of Marketing & Business Development, Ballard Spahr

Thank you to our event sponsor Jaffe!

jaffe pr.png

Jaffe is a complete Public Relations resource, devoted primarily to law firms, legal associations and vendors to the legal market. Legal Brand Journalism™, including media relations and content development, is at the heart of our work for clients. Around this core are in-house specialists providing reputation consulting, content writing and development, creative services from branding to websites, and search engine optimization. Integrated teams fully support clients in growing and managing their public reputations and attracting new business opportunities. Beyond this are other valued resources unique in the industry, including WritersForLawyers™ to provide all forms of content, LexSpeak™ to identify and support speaking engagements, and RankingsForLawyers™ to navigate and capitalize on numerous survey and ranking possibilities.

They represent many law firms of all sizes -- from those mid-size firms, those within the AmLaw 200 to regional boutique firms, as well as other professional services firms. They have expertise and experience not only in the legal market, but also within nearly every industry and specialty that these firms practice. They also represent legal-related organizations, including industry directories, legal associations and organizations focusing on alternative dispute 

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