I had originally intended to write this week’s blog on lawyers (more specifically, law firm partners) generating new business and clients. Specifically, why it’s so important to develop one’s own book of portable business and avoid becoming the “unintentional service partner.” But I decided against it.
Not because it isn’t a valid topic. It is. And certainly not because developing a stable of clients whose continuing business—and enduring loyalty—is anything other than imperative, particularly in our current era of eleventh hour mergers, unexpected dissolutions (firms, you know who you are) and now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t market opportunities. But because it’s just a bit too self-evident to really be useful. Of course you should strive to develop your own business—every lawyer needs to! I don’t think that’s really in question. And in this information age you have more tools at your disposal than any other time in history to identify and reach out to potential clients (see any one of our previous three blogs).
So instead of telling you what you already know, I thought we’d give you some insight that might not be so obvious. Call it the perspective from the other side of the phone, as only as a partner legal recruiter could provide.
Odds are, as an attorney and a law firm partner, you receive one, two or ten calls a week (a day!?) from legal recruiters. You may even have offered your assistant a healthy bonus and a week in your Maui timeshare if he/she proves capable of intercepting and dispatching such calls before they ever reach your ears. Understandable, particularly when you’re overwhelmed with work and changing law firms is the last thing on your mind. But it is nearly a statistical certainty that you will change firms at some point in your career—perhaps more than once—and when that time comes, you’ll have some decisions to make. Should you work with a partner legal recruiter or go it on your own? If you’re going to work with a partner legal recruiter, which one and how do you choose? Are there any benefits to working with more than one recruiter?
Over the next two or three weeks, we’ll look at each of these questions and draw on our twenty-plus years of recruiting experience to give you our unbiased take. Well, as unbiased as a recruiter can get.
Let’s start by taking one step back and look at the partner who probably should be considering his options but hasn’t realized it yet. This case can be best illustrated by a real-world example from this year. A law firm partner we’ve been working with for the past several months. Let’s call him Mike (not his real name).
We first identified Mike while working on a retained search for one of our law firm clients. They were looking to grow their labor and employment litigation practice and brought us in because we understood both their firm and their market. Mike had an impressive background, both academically and professionally, and seemed a good potential fit for our search. This story, as so many recruiting stories do, began with an email and a cold call. After leaving a couple of messages for Mike we eventually spoke. We talked for quite a while and I learned that Mike, as a result of mostly self-directed marketing efforts, had steadily built a respectable book of business. But Mike said he was relatively satisfied where he was and, as the call wound down, told me he’d be happy to meet (“Hey, I’m always open to networking”) but he wanted to manage expectations and make clear he had no intentions of leaving. We agreed to sit down for a casual coffee the following week.
It was obvious after the first fifteen minutes that Mike could do much better. He was significantly undercompensated given his current portable business, had grown his book as large as he was likely to atop his firm’s platform and was missing significant opportunities for cross-selling. Perhaps most surprising was the fact that he had clearly never thought about any of this seriously prior to our conversation. He was almost entirely unaware of competitive salaries, alternative compensation and bonus structures and even the comparative value of his practice within the local market. After a frank discussion and a hard look at where Mike hoped to take his legal practice, from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective, he agreed with us and decided it made sense to begin exploring his options—he is now being courted by several law firms.
While this may seem surprising, it’s not as unusual as you might think. After all, an attorney’s job is to know the law, service their clients and, if there’s any time left over, develop business. (And, after that, maybe you have some time for your family too.) Put simply, unless you’re the managing partner of your law firm, your focus is likely to be the practice of law, not the business of law.
This is where a knowledgeable and experienced recruiter can really add value. If you’ve kept you head down and your nose dutifully to the grindstone for the better part of a decade, you may eventually look up to find the landscape significantly changed. Partnering with a guide to help you navigate the lateral market is not only advisable but often means the difference between a lucrative, successful, long-term placement and finding yourself back in the market just a few unhappy years down the road.
But how to choose? How does one discern the good from the bad and the ugly? That will have to wait for our next blog!