In today's legal industry talent crunch, law firms put a lot of effort into lateral hires and mergers to serve clients with the best talent available. Despite all that effort and investment, Dr. Heidi Gardner believes there is much more that firms could do to maximize those investments.
Gardner, Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School's Center on the Legal Profession, focuses her extensive research, teaching, speaking, and consulting work on the role of collaboration in today's organizations. She recently led a webinar, "Smarter Collaboration to Optimize Lateral Hiring & Mergers," hosted by Litera and moderated by Barry Solomon, Litera's Vice President - Advisors, Evangelists & Sales Engineers
Gardner's message was clear: finding the right legal talent and getting them in the door is not enough. The collaborative process that ensures success begins long before the formal hiring phase and extends well beyond it.
Gardner focused first on the steps that firms can take to ensure smooth and effective integrations of new hires. These steps include:
- Holding partners accountable for the integration of new hires. This requires a specific plan with concrete actions and responsibilities, such as including the new hire in meetings with clients A and B within two weeks of the hire or making a partner's own KPIs dependent on new partners meeting their goals.
- Involving clients in the success of new hires. Many lateral hires experience a "sink or swim" environment, leaving them to their own devices to integrate with the new firm's clients. "It's essential to get the firm's clients involved in this," said Gardner. "The clients should also feel that they are on the hook" because the new hire presumably fills gaps experienced by clients, and immediate engagement involves the client in that process.
- Cultivate trust and create "pull" for new hires. By "pull," Gardner means that firms should use a full range of techniques to help draw new hires into the firm's work and not just expect them to "push" their way into engagements and relationships. This can be accomplished with incentives (building it into performance plans); networking events (to build interpersonal trust); creating "psychological safety" (providing a team a place where it's OK to admit mistakes, see and suggest alternatives, and ask for help); and using all available tools, including storytelling, to share early successes and provide visibility to the new hire's contributions).
Gardner pointed out that many of these techniques do not come naturally to organizations. Many psychometric tools are available to help individuals and organizations measure and identify strengths and blind spots in their makeup. Gardner provides such a tool, Smart Collaboration Accelerator, a research-based psychometric assessment that helps individuals, leaders, and teams understand their behavioral tendencies. Such tools can put data and metrics behind a firm's understanding of its collaborative capacity.
Larger scale mergers present other challenges. Here Gardner suggests:
- Conducting due diligence on collaborative outcomes and culture. Gardner cited Thomas Edison for the idea that "A genius is a talented person who does his or her homework." Good integrations of teams don't just happen post-merger; the groundwork must be laid in the early, investigative stages. Gardner believes in culture audits, which collect data on a firm's collaborative patterns to understand whether clients are served by teams or isolated individuals, for example.
- Bolstering the collaboration pre-merger. Here Gardner drew on her experience advising a large corporate merger. Some lessons from it included encouraging leadership teams to get acquainted on a personal level at an early stage; naming leaders of the merged entity at an early stage; and making clear statements about collaboration and the benefits of the combination to clients.
- Data and analytics are your friends. To track progress, metrics such as team member satisfaction and retention, client satisfaction, productivity, and performance measures must be implemented before the combination. "You need the data; you can't rely on intuition to fully understand the outcome," said Gardner.
Solomon offered his takeaways on the essence of Gardner's workshop: Even before a merger, there is lots of work to be done to ensure its success; planning is required throughout the process; firms need to think about the "why" behind any hire or combination; and looking at metrics throughout the process is essential to support decision making.
Gardner's insights draw heavily on her research and others in her field. Much of the content of this webinar comes from her book Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos and her upcoming book Smarter Collaboration: A New Approach to Breaking Down Barriers and Transforming Work.
The complete recording of this webinar is available online.