It is important to recognize that each attorney is unique and may have unique needs, therefore each onboarding situation should be tailored to the attorney.
When a law firm hires an attorney from another firm, certain challenges need to be addressed. It is prudent to address these issues prior to day one, before the lateral attorney becomes an entrenched member of the firm. It is equally important to recognize that each attorney is unique and may have unique needs, therefore each onboarding situation should be tailored to the attorney.
Prior to Joining the Firm
The firm’s administrative professionals, including IT, Human Resources, Facilities, Marketing and Finance professionals, should hold a meeting with the lateral. Each discipline will have different concerns and issues to ensure the attorney is properly onboarded and ready to perform legal services on the very first day.
The attorney should have a good understanding of the firm’s technology stack, including the document management system and practice management platform. In some instances, he/she may be asked to use a personal cell phone for call forwarding or mobile accessibility to matter data. It’s critical to share any BYOD (bring your own device) and remote work policy early on to ensure compliance out of the gate.
To get acclimated, the attorney may need training on the firm’s document management system, telephone, legal research, time and billing, and any other vertical software application. Finding time for training may be difficult once the attorney is fully engaged in legal matters, so getting the attorney to a comfortable level of using all the technology beforehand is preferable. The attorney must also have a complete understanding of the firm’s cybersecurity procedures. In the current business environment, law firms are getting hacked at unprecedented levels. With the legal industry being one of the most hacked industries in the United States, it’s imperative that all incoming attorneys be aware of the security measures the firm has in place.
Many of the required forms can be easily completed prior to the attorney’s first day. More importantly, the attorney should have the opportunity to meet any support staff that will be directly working with him/her.
A mentor should also be assigned to the incoming attorney. Make sure the mentor has sufficient experience with the firm and is considered the new attorney’s peer. This mentor will help the attorney understand the firm’s unique culture. The mentor should expect to actively interact with the new attorney for at least six months, but the mentor and mentee will recognize when the formal relationship can end.
The hiring law firm has an obligation to work with the lateral attorney to do everything it can to help that person become more successful than at his/her previous firm.
An office will need to be assigned. Whether the firm is hoteling attorneys or providing an individual office, all of this should be discussed prior to the first day. The attorney may have furniture and other unique items that will need to be transported and installed.
It’s more than likely that the attorney will have hard copies of client files and electronic files that will need to be incorporated into the new system. The new firm will probably need to reach out to and coordinate with the previous firm to ensure that everything is transferred properly.
Transitioning Clients and Insurance Policies
Every client that is transferred to the new firm must have a completed “new hire application.” This process should be completed prior to the attorney joining the firm, and everything has to be promptly entered into the new firm’s system. The acquiring firm will have to work with the previous firm to ensure that escrow accounts of any clients that are transferring with the lateral attorney are properly transferred. Clients should experience absolutely no transition issues.
Virtually every professional liability insurance policy is on a claims-made basis. The policy has to be in effect when a claim is made. Acquiring law firms will automatically add new attorneys to their policies. An attorney will be covered as long as they remain employed with the firm. When they leave the firm, the attorney remains covered for the timeframe spent at the firm—as long as the firm remains in business. That means, if a claim is filed against an attorney at his/her previous firm, that firm’s policy will cover the claim. However, if that firm is no longer in business, the attorney may find himself/herself with no coverage. To remain properly covered, a lateral attorney should consider purchasing a tail, unless the new firm’s insurance contains prior acts protection. Most insurance companies, today, do not offer prior acts, so purchasing a tail is definitely wise. One uninsured claim could result in bankrupting the transitioning attorney.
Most laterals do not succeed in transporting all of their current clients. They have to understand that current clients are only a piece of their “book.” They must know how to properly communicate their move positively to their clients to maintain their current and future business. A lateral should expect to spend a significant amount of time marketing his/her business when at a new firm. He/she needs to understand that his/her previous firm will be marketing and reaching out to those transitioning clients in an attempt to keep them.
In order to keep up marketing efforts, all social media should be updated. The attorney would be wise to publish articles, blogs, and podcasts so his/her name appears with his/her current law firm when an internet search is performed. The attorney should work with the firm’s marketing department to optimize those searches (SEO).
The hiring law firm has an obligation to work with the lateral attorney to do everything it can to help that person become more successful than at his/her previous firm. Addressing most of the expected challenges, before day one, will make for a smooth, successful, and hopefully more profitable transition.
Written by CARET Legal partner, Gail Ruopp. Gail Ruopp has acquired more than 25 years of professional experience in senior law firm management, initiating best practices in administrative operations, including: financials, accounting, lateral recruiting, personnel, day-to-day operations, systems management, and firm marketing.