1. Understand your client strategy
Without clarity of what you are looking for, you will never find it. The underlying purpose of most search campaigns is client acquisition so start with a client-centred strategy.
Questions to consider: What clients do we want as a firm? What are we known for? What leverage will we get from these clients into our other practice areas? Who has these clients? Will the client move with these individuals?
2. Be realistic
Too often firms will seek out partners who are unrealistic. Firms need to evaluate what is realistic.
Questions to consider: What are the likely ramifications of introducing another partner at equity level within a practice which is larger than our existing top performers? What is the likelihood a leading partner will want to come and join our firm? Are we more likely to get a senior associate who has been overlooked due to the existing structure? What is the most likely scenario?
3. Why should a partner join you?
It seems simple, but this is the most difficult question to answer for many firms.
The standard response is that firms view this question from their own reflection, rather than from the partner’s perspective.
The real reason a partner will join you is that you can demonstrate that you will address the key issues causing them to leave their current firm.
Client acquisition is your primary driver, but making a partner feel that they are just another bolt-on practice to the machine is a sure way to drive a partner away from your firm.
Questions to consider: Can you make them feel valued and can you articulate how their practice is important to the future of the firm strategically?
4. Define the culture
Many firms talk about culture but rarely are they able to cogently articulate what their culture might be. Their evaluation is based on ‘gut feel’ rather than a clear definition. Culture in any organisation is more than just a set of values on a website. Culture is an agreed set of behaviours that are lived and shared, never compromised, and enforced by the leadership. These same behaviours need to be assessed at the interview stage.
Many firms rarely give this the attention it deserves because it is ultimately the size of the practice that rules all decision making. However, think about what your clients’ perspective will be when you offer up a motley crew of partners who don’t share the same values, don’t really want to work together as a team to secure new projects, or refrain from internal referrals as a result of not wanting to spend time together.
Questions to consider: Are your clients going to stay with your firm? Furthermore, how will this individual impact on your firm attracting quality lawyers in the future or keeping your best talent?
5. Define the process
Most partners baulk at the idea of a structured interview process. Many prefer a cosy fireside chat and see it as a break from their day-to-day billable activities. However, without a clearly defined process in place, there will be no navigation to your destination. Having an agenda of key items for discussion agreed upon before the interview takes place is a far better approach.
In addition, a nominated partner who is responsible for coordinating the interviews is essential to the process.
Beware of the partners who are nesting on a decadent empire who turn away candidates on the basis they are “just not right for the firm”. They will destroy your ability to attract the right hire.
In our view, a proper interview process should not exceed a three-month time to offer. A drawn-out interview process does not support a better process. Candidate feedback should be given within 24 hours. From a candidate’s perspective, firms who do not respond in a timely manner seem disinterested, rude and disengaged. Furthermore, if there are gaps due to availability of partners, let the candidate know. Set expectations about the process with your candidates early through open communication and you will command their respect.
Craig Burrows (pictured) is the managing director of executive search and selection consultancy Burrows Legal.
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