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Law firms 'should be cautious with lateral hires'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 18/09/13

Lateral hiring, according to Motive Legal Consulting managing director Mark Brandon, is like buying suits. (This is my simile, rather than his, and one largely driven by my lasting belief that everyone in the legal services industry is a snappy dresser).

What this means is that when buying a suit, you can go to Primark and pick up ten shirts for five quid, assuming you have no moral compunctions about the underpaid labour involved in producing them. On the other hand, you can go somewhere posh where an elderly man will prod you and hassle you with rulers, and end up with one shirt for ten times that price.

It depends what you want to go for - quality or quantity. Mr Brandon, writing in the Lawyer, has warned that too many firms are opting for the latter and missing out on the former.

He pinpointed the trend of hiring so-called 'drizzlemakers' - lawyers with a decent client base and a good record who do not quite make the grade when it comes to bringing high-value business into the firm.

According to the Motive Legal Consulting chief, many partners feel compelled to invest in new hires at all cost, and are unwilling to do the difficult sums involved in working out if new lawyers will offer advantages  to their firm.

"Not bothering to calculate when lateral hires will break even, or even if they might, and basing your decision on the promise of largely unverified and unverifiable figures you are never going to re-examine strikes me as being rather like kissing a lucky rabbit's foot before you lay your bet," said Mr Brandon (after all, the rabbit can't have been that lucky given that you now have its foot on a piece of string).

Instead, he urged partners to engage in audit processes and put potential new hires under the microscope before bringing them in - something recruitment firms can also help with, saving time for busy internal processors.