The Virtuous Cycle of Lateral Promotion

By: John Hellerman

It’s ba-ack! After years in recession-inspired doldrums, the market for laterals has been gaining consistent steam in recent years. According to projections by Lateral Link, the first quarter of 2015 could see as many as 700 lateral moves, which would be the highest total in a single quarter in more than seven years. Around that time—way back in early 2008—I wrote an article in LMA Strategies on the topic of laterals, and with lateral movement as brisk now as it was back then, it’s a perfect opportunity to consider what we’ve learned in recent years.

My Strategies piece was titled “‘Lateral’ Should Mean Up, Not Sideways,” and it made two simple points: (1) given how expensive it is for firms to hire lateral partners (the estimated cost to recruit and integrate lateral was a shocking $600,000 in 2008), firms should do everything they can to ensure the success of their lateral hires, including making them feel as content as possible; and (2) conducting PR campaigns around new lateral hires is a great way to make them feel content at their new firms.

Almost seven years forward, it’s gratifying that these are hardly the bold statements they were at the time. With regard to the first point, in the last five years in particular, firms have fully grasped the importance of setting laterals up for success, and have done an admirable job of developing sophisticated lateral integration programs (which, I suspect, pushes that $600,000 figure even higher). There is also a growing consensus that creating focused PR campaigns around new laterals makes a lot of sense.

For any that still need convincing, there’s one thought I would like to add to my main points from seven years ago. At the time, I focused largely on the fact that a PR campaign built around a lateral hire benefits that lateral; specifically, by making the lateral feel special (always a good thing) and increasing his or her chances of gaining new business. The thought I would emphasize today is this: that by promoting new laterals, a firm doesn’t just benefit the lateral, but also initiates a virtuous cycle that makes it easier to attract more laterals. Here’s why:

  1. Many firms find it difficult to differentiate themselves in the market for lateral talent. A firm that can point to an established program it operates to promote its new lateral hires has a strong differentiator to point to in recruiting pitches;
  2. New lateral hires that have benefitted from dedicated PR campaigns will speak positively of their new firm, and particularly its PR efforts, to other potential laterals, making the firm more attractive to them; and
  3. With increased retention of lateral hires, due in part to the focused PR campaigns built around them, a firm will have a bigger foundation of talent and business in place to attract laterals with complementary practices.

In short, promoting new laterals is not just the best thing for the lateral, it’s the best thing for the firm’s lateral hiring strategies as well. From the numbers, we can see that those strategies are now shifting into high gear.

This article is provided to you by Hellerman Baretz Communications, sponsor of the 2015 LMA Annual Conference.


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