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Lateral hires 'may not be sticking around'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 19/03/13

Companies offering private practice lawyer jobs to talented - and well-paid - legal executives tend to hope that their new hire is willing to spend a few years with the firm developing their skills, earning their keep and settling in to the position before they think of moving on again.

However, a new report from Motive Legal Consulting has indicated that some employees may not be giving their complementary first-day coffee time to cool before putting out the feelers for something new.

According to the study, a third of partner hires in London between 2005 and 2012 did not stick, with failure rates remaining persistently high for the industry.

Writing in The Lawyer magazine, Motive Legal managing director Mark Brandon admitted that failure in this sense is relative - that is, the data assumes that failing to retain an employee over a seven-year period is considered negative.

While some companies may contest this understanding of the situation (for instance, some of the lawyers no longer in their position may have been consistently mediocre performers, or so-called drizzle makers), it is clear that long-term stability tends to rely on keeping a certain number of workers happy in their position.

"It seems self-evident that consistently hiring lateral partners who do not perform to expectations will degrade firm profitability over time," said Mr Brandon.

This leads to several conclusions for law firms hoping to improve their hiring process and save cash at the same time. One, the most obvious, is that a stringent checking process should be in place to ensure that unsuitable candidates are weeded out before being offered the big bucks.

"A hiring strategy with too many compromises, too many income guarantees, a failure to integrate hires and a wilful blindness in the hiring process can lead to disaster," the Motive Legal Consulting chief pointed out.

Furthermore, it is important to treat legal partners as tiny seeds, that could one day grow into a mighty oak or a beautiful daffodil, and make sure they are sheltered from the wind and watered daily in order to facilitate this growth. Metaphorically speaking.

Mr Brandon concluded that until change is brought about in the hiring process, the figures will continue to look bad for many legal firms across the UK and the US.

Ultimately companies need to strike a balance between running a tight ship and cutting down on churn, which will disrupt their trade and make for a difficult working environment.