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Gray Rule
October 2016 | VOLUME 17, NUMBER 4
Gray Rule
Growing the Pie and the Talent through Organizational Effectiveness
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IN THIS ISSUE:
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»Growing the Pie and the Talent through Organizational Effectiveness
»Lateral Partner Integration Tools
»Best Practices in Creating Effective Succession Planning Strategies
»Exploring New Roles in Law Firms
»Without a Trace–Anonymizers
»The Rise of Lean and Six Sigma for Improving Legal Service
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Lateral Partner Integration ToolsSharon Meit Abrahams and William P. Scarbrough
Law firms spend a lot of time and money recruiting lateral partners in today's legal market, yet far less attention is devoted to integrating them into their new firms. Failure to properly integrate leaves new partners with less than stellar feelings about their new place and, at worse, feeling that they made a poor decision in joining their new firm. The authors offer two basic tools to help firms be more successful in today's legal economy where most firms are growing in numbers in order to increase their bottom lines.

To justify the creation of a formal process, firms should start with an assessment of the current laterals' opinion of their integration. Depending on the number of laterals, go back three to five years to collect data. The following are sample questions you can ask via an online survey, phone interviews, or as a focus group.

  1. How smooth was the physical delivery and integration of your files from your previous firm?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best, how would you rate the conflicts process with regard to transferring clients?
  3. Was your initial training/orientation helpful?
  4. What resources (people, department, online, etc.) did you find most helpful in your first 30 days with the firm?
  5. How much interaction with other partners throughout the firm (either in person or via phone or video) did you have in the first three to six months? Was it enough to help you to feel integrated to your satisfaction?
  6. With respect to cross-selling, were you introduced to any firm clients during your first six months at the firm?
  7. Are there substantive issues that you feel have not been adequately communicated/explained to you properly prior to/since your arrival? If so, what are they?

The answers to these questions will determine the need for, and be a guide to the creation of, a formal integration process. Collect this information on a yearly basis so improvements can be celebrated and continued refinement instituted. The authors offer two basic tools to help firms be more successful in today's legal economy where most firms are growing in numbers in order to increase their bottom lines. Those tools are (1) an integration checklist for laterals developed by Bodman PLC and (2) an integration framework for the laterals.

Bodman PLC, a 150-lawyer Detroit-based business firm, developed the lateral integration checklist, presented in three segments below, as a means of integrating lateral partners into the firm in a consistent way.


The idea behind the checklist is to address law firms falling short with partner integration due to a lack of clarity around who is responsible for what. The list also lays out a logical sequence of steps for bringing laterals on board and integrating them into the firm and into their department or practice group(s).


The idea behind the checklist is to address law firms falling short with partner integration due to a lack of clarity around who is responsible for what. The list also lays out a logical sequence of steps for bringing laterals on board and integrating them into the firm and into their department or practice group(s).


The list is not perfect, but the firm has had success retaining all laterals hired since its implementation three years ago–an admittedly short period of time for assessing retention. Laterals hired during this time have also expressed high levels of satisfaction with the firm's efforts to make them feel welcome and a part of the Bodman team. In addition to the checklist, practice group leaders are responsible for reporting on the progress of lateral integration in their groups to Bodman's executive committee each quarter for three years after hire.

To create an integration checklist that fits your firm's culture it is recommended to use a small working group that represents all functions in the firm. The most obvious are accounting, IT, marketing, and conflicts, but think about having representatives from administration, HR, and even a recent lateral to help determine what should be on your firm's checklist. There are also a myriad of samples available online. One last place to look for ideas on creating a useful checklist is your malpractice insurance carrier. As an example, ALAS has a robust checklist that covers just about every topic you can think of.

The great news about shifting to an even more effective culture is that a firm may begin in one or two areas and expand from there. Whether it's the leadership team, associates, operations, or a combination, measuring effectiveness against the desired ideal will be worth the investment of time and resources, and result in building a collaborative, effective environment.

While Bodman's checklist is the beginning of the integration process, the following is a way to document that the lateral's clients are being integrated into the firm as well as the lateral being cross-sold to current firm clients. There are two parts to this: internal focus and external focus. Starting with the internal focus, begin by identifying which partners the lateral needs to meet and schedule the meetings.


By documenting when and with whom the lateral is to meet you will ensure the integration process has begun with others in the firm. Some firms have other activities to introduce new partners including meals, cocktail parties, and even internal presentations. An excellent win–win approach to integration is to have the lateral do a presentation for the other attorneys on his or her practice area. If created appropriately the presentation can receive continuing legal education (CLE) credit, which is a bonus and might entice others to attend. The internal process continues for the first year or until the lateral feels they are seen as part of the service delivery team.

The external process is about getting your lateral's name and credentials associated with your firm among clients and prospects. An outgrowth of the internal process should be the opportunity for partners to invite the lateral to meet the current firm clients that they are serving. Meetings and site visits should be set up within the first few months of the lateral's arrival to basically "show off" the new talent. If the partners are excited to make these introductions the clients will be excited to learn about new service areas. As with the previous diagram, the meetings are listed and comments noted.


By using software that is accessible to multiple people, everyone involved with integrating the lateral will have the ability to look at the status of tasks and track the progress.

As with the internal process, the external process can take on a variety of forms. Cocktail parties can include clients so formal introductions can be made. CLE sessions can be offered directly to clients at their location to highlight the lateral's knowledge and skills in a particular area. The best and most effective client and lateral integration is for the firm to include the lateral in RFPs and other pitches once they are on board.

These lateral partner checklists and tools are by no means the only means of managing the process of integration, but they demonstrate the importance of managing the process rather than letting it drift. After all of the time, effort and money spent by law firms to recruit top laterals, it makes sense for firms to spend the necessary management time and resources to integrate those new partners into the firm.

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