Attracting and Retaining Talent in Changing Times

Shaaron Dalton

Monday 9th October 2017

I am fortunate to be working with some exceptional law firm leaders as they build teams and open new offices, plan succession and move into mergers or combination with other firms. The law firm leaders who succeed in creating strong collaborative, supportive cultures are those who are strong enough to resist the temptations of a quick fix and work hard on creating and supporting a transparent, cohesive, collaborative culture where purpose is clearly defined and embraced.

Below for ease of reference I’ve distilled some of the lessons I’ve seen played out through decades of change in the legal services market into The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of lateral recruitment of partners and teams.

I wonder if you recognise some of these lessons in your own firm and would love to hear if there are any I’ve left out?

The Good

Good people have always been hard to find (apologies to Feargal Sharkey, for anyone old enough to remember). The diaspora that was once known as the legal profession is a brave new world.  In this environment, law firm leaders who recognise the person, the human being, with all their motivations and goals, both in and outside of work, are reaping the rewards of a motivated, engaged and productive workplace for all concerned.  Aligning the multi-faceted individual with the purposes and goals of the firm is an art worth mastering.

Building successful teams in the rapidly changing legal services environment often involves lateral recruitment of partners and teams.  If handled well, lateral recruitment can add value to client offering and enhance the working environment and opportunities for other partners, teams and employees.

  • Do listen to each person individually and get to understand what gets them out of bed in the morning, their drivers and goals. Do listen and see how those correlate with the firm’s vision and purpose
  • Be transparent about the culture and expectations of the partnership team they’re joining.
  • Communicate well with your existing teams about the people joining to manage expectations and respect your own people in the process.

The Bad

On the other hand, there are many examples where lateral hiring is handled badly, imposed on partners in a way destined to result in significant fall out for the firm causing unintended consequences and reputational risk.

  • The Buddy Franklin factor –As footy teams have learned, exceeding the salary cap doesn’t end well. You will start to lose everyone paying for it within 18 months if the expensive star cannot deliver.
  • Blinded by the $$ – Hiring for practice size can kill the team – narcissists with record breaking fees are toxic and kill the team. This is when the superstar does perform but then starts a cycle of bad behaviours which can only cause unmanageable issues longer term.

The Ugly

Too often, we see the results of the following, imposed changes.  Sometimes such changes come about in a design to achieve the fallout they cause, mostly they happen opportunistically and that is where they could be better managed, by bringing the existing partners and teams along.

  • The reverse takeover – Much larger team into small team generally guarantees the existing small team leaves.
  • Throwing out the baby with the bathwater – Hiring in a new “Head of” over existing team leaders guarantees they’ll race out the door.

Invariably, if change is imposed without consultation and transparency, the result is the rapid departure of existing team members and often the leaders in the team as well.

On the way out, if the process is not well handled, there is a huge reputational risk for the firm which may result in them losing in the war for talent for some time to come.

ECP Legal is a global strategy led consulting group advising the legal services sector.  We assist legal services firms with new market entry, mergers and combinations and hiring individuals and teams to grow and assist with succession planning. For discrete discussion about the market, PM or call me on 0418 777 133.

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