The No. 1 Lateral Partner Move Myth I Hear

Lateral partner movement was once uncommon, and even though that has changed, a certain mythology has developed in the wake of change. The most pervasive myth I hear as a legal recruiter is that switching firms is a big career risk. That might have held some truth 20 years ago, but it certainly doesn’t pass the smell test today.

I get where the misperception originates. Lateral partners certainly didn’t used to be the most celebrated and supported partners in a firm. For years, legacy and existing partners rooted against them, sometimes even facilitating their failure.

Now things are completely different for lateral partners. Law firm management is acutely focused on (and accountable for) the success of laterals. If dept leaders and managing partners learn people are preventing their integration and success, they are not forgiving. Why?

Lateral hires are the engine of law firm strategic growth 

The success of lateral partners is inextricably linked to law firm growth (and ultimately success).

Consider if firms like Latham, Gibson, Kirkland, Cooley, etc., relied solely on organic growth, only promoting partners from within. Take any successful large global firm, for that matter, with depth in practice areas and geography and examine how it got there.

Despite this evidence, pundits continue to warn of the risks of lateral partner growth for law firms. Identifying risk is fine. Nothing of value is ever risk-free. Just keep in mind that lawyers, by nature or nurture, look hard for what could go wrong. Negativity also draws media attention. Drama sells.

No one can honestly argue with the fact that lateral hires are the engine of growth for law firms. Being that driver of strategic growth is likely to land laterals in the center of the action for the firm, which equates to more value and security.

Thus, nobody will ever convince me that staying in the same firm for a long period or even one’s whole career is the default career lane with the least amount of risk.

Thinking that leaving is riskier than staying is a trick of the mind

Doing nothing often feels safe. Doing something feels riskier, even when that is not true. The chance the firm you joined 10-15 years ago is the absolute best fit for you now is unlikely. The risky decision is to stay at a firm too long after it’s clear you are not “tip of the spear,” as the saying goes. It usually has less to do with your book of business, and more to do with some aspect of the firm’s strategic focus (i.e. geography, diversity, practice area, industry verticals, etc.).

I once heard a very prominent partner (comfortable in the same firm for decades) say this after a hard-fought decision to move: “You can stay where you are tolerated or move to a place where you will be celebrated.”  Maybe a smidge too dramatic, but anecdotally it rings true for me.  In 17 years the vast majority of the partners I placed say it was the best decision they ever made. I was a bit surprised at first, but the tales kept pouring in over the years.

I realize my bias as an agent of change. And of course this is personal and situational. There are many instances where people should stay put. There is nothing inherently wrong with a career that lasts a long time at one law firm. But while not always comfortable in thought, there’s no denying the raw career power of lateral movement today (which more often reduces rather than augments the risks one faces over a long career).

Want to discuss? Call me.

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Put Your Best Face Forward: 7 Tips for a Video Recruiting Call

As a legal recruiter, I may situationally advocate for either an in-person meeting (when it’s safe) or a phone call over a video call. I explain the hierarchy in my recent post: “I just Zoomed to say I love you.”  That said, in the current lateral recruiting environment video meetings are now commonplace.

Regardless of method, the goal of these get-to-know-you conversations remains the same: Make a positive impression to create/enhance a professional relationship. To increase the probability of a successful meeting, I offer seven tips for more effective video calls

1) You are not on the bridge of the USS Enterprise; Avoid virtual backdrops

I discourage the use of virtual backgrounds in lateral partner interviews/meetings. I will confess I used them in the early months because I thought they were “cool”, but now see them as a bit distracting.

They also don’t promote the best overall vibe for an interview. Even if they are interesting, that fake tranquil green pasture (or slick modern office) can mitigate some of the vulnerability that accompanies in-person meetings. People are interested in seeing someone’s authentic self in a recruiting context. Virtual backdrops can be snazzy but a photo, art, a clock, things personal to your space, have more relationship-building value.

Bonus Tip: If your surroundings are in a state of disarray, and getting to order isn’t feasible, you might try a plain white backdrop for meetings. It won’t be as interesting, but it also won’t take over the meeting and potentially make a bigger impression than you.

2) Testing Testing 1,2,3…

Testing your system and practicing video calls is the most common tip you’ll read online, and bears repeating. Being ready on the tech front is about gaining respect from others about your agility in the modern world. We’ve all been on video calls when people are tech-challenged (i.e. can’t get camera or microphone to work). Of course this can happen to anyone, but they do slow things down and are annoying.

Of course things happen and rolling with them patiently when others have issues is important.  A bonus from sharpening your understanding of your video equipment platform is helping someone else troubleshoot their issues. This is impressive to some people (i.e. me) and people are often quite grateful.

3) LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION!

Lights is first for a reason. Having appropriate lighting affects your appearance on video calls. We all know the work done to make media/TV stars look their best on-screen. We, however, are at the mercy of how we look without the benefit of a professional studios..

Giving your video quality a lighting boost presents a warmer, in-real-life feel to a virtual meeting. Natural light is optimal from a window, but often not feasible. The key is adding light that will face you (i.e. behind the camera/computer). Lighting which illuminates your face can offer a softer, more attractive visual (making one look more youthful and energetic).

Bonus Tip: This does not require professional lighting equipment. You can use household lights/lamps placed behind the monitor/camera to direct the light to your face. It’s wise to experiment here to confirm what works best for your video appearance.

4) She’s got Betty Davis eyes…or does she? Making eye contact on video calls

We all know consistent eye contact can help build rapport and trust. We all know how to do this in person, but it’s not intuitive on video calls. Should we look directly at the person on the screen? Should we look at ourselves? No, is the answer to both questions, but we all do it anyway.

First, I don’t advise looking at the camera directly. People tend to look awkward after looking too long at an object vis-à-vis looking at a person.  Luckily, there is a way to simulate a face to face effect (considering 2020, this all may be a much larger simulation…but I digress). Minimize the Zoom window and position it at the top of the screen. This means the smaller video window is right below the camera (likely sitting on top of the display). With the window resized and so positioned, you now look directly at the other person, which will naturally direct your eyesight in line with the camera. Voila!

If one is dealing with  a “Brady Bunch” style multi-person call, looking at the person in the top row center window will effectuate eye contact for ALL people on the call.

5) Don’t look at the ‘man’ in the mirror (even if you do need to change your ways)

Hide or minimize self-view window if you can (this also helps technically with the eye contact issue above). Gazing at yourself on video is distracting due to our self-conscious and self-critical nature and can take your attention away from others on a call.

I don’t know why we are so drawn to look at ourselves, but I leave that one to behavioral scientists. Compare a regular in-person meeting where we can’t stare at ourselves. All our attention is on the others in the meeting. So let’s better simulate the real meeting by eliminating the self-view option.

Zoom easily allows you to hide your self-view. Click on the three dots in the upper right corner of your video window. Then click on “Hide Self View” (for help, see this YouTube tutorial). The steps (and outcomes) differ for WebEx and other video platforms.

6) Optimize your video: Explore advanced video settings

Many video services like Zoom, WebEx, and Teams have advanced video settings to optimize your appearance. Examples include:

  • Turning on an auto “adjust for light” feature.
  • Using HD video.
  • Applying a touch-up filter to your video that your co-attendees won’t detect.

Zoom, for example, has a video setting with a slider that allows you to enhance your video. This feature is comparable to the “enhance” photo filter on most photo apps in smartphones.

7) Video didn’t kill the radio star: Audio quality is important

You should ensure you have excellent audio quality. From a technical aspect, I recommend not using the computer built in microphone for your voice. Instead, opt for a headset, or high quality wireless earbuds (i.e., Air Pods), or high end headphones with a built-in microphone. Using your computer microphone is the equivalent of a speakerphone call, and that effect isn’t always optimal.

You should also understand your computer’s audio settings well.  For those challenged in this area (like I am) I recommend using the video platform’s dial-in audio feature from your phone, provided you have a reliable headset (or earbuds) for hands-free talking.

These tips can help you put your best face forward and create a sense of calm and confidence for a great video call.

Want to discuss? (Video) Call me.

Subscribe below to follow the blog. To connect on social media, you can find me @DanHatchHGB on Twitter and LinkedIn here.

Legal Recruiting: “I just Zoomed to say I love you”

With apologies to Stevie Wonder, this doesn’t have the same ring to it does it??

Why the song reference? Let’s begin by asserting that face-to-face meetings have always been the lifeblood of legal recruiting at the partner level.

People meet! Both in and out of the office, coffees, lunches, and dinners were part of routine business development. It only made sense that the industry swiftly embraced video chat platforms like Zoom as the default mode of meeting and recruiting when Covid-19 struck, as I explain in the ABA Journal.

Since writing that piece, I’ve wondered: How is our industry’s zeal for Zoom impacting our ability to build trust and rapport in new relationships? Are we relying too much on Zoom? Do we need to reprioritize the importance of other modes of communication, like the good old-fashioned phone call?

I’ll go ahead and use Zoom like we use Kleenex (there are many video services, but one day we will wax nostalgic about being there when “Zoom” became a noun). Zoom has been a boon to the industry from a business continuity perspective, and there are changes that will likely continue into the future, regardless of virus concerns. However, as Zoom has become the norm, I can’t help but feel there are times when something has been lost, like our ability to focus completely so that we can connect at a deeper personal level.

Study finds Zoom sucks your energy and splits your attention.

The concept of Zoom fatigue, detailed by Stanford University, is a real issue. Researchers found that having to maintain constant eye contact with others is incredibly draining. It is also tiring to take in your reflection while trying to carry on a conversation (Zoom pro tip: Hide your self-view). Video calls split your attention in myriad directions, adding stress and leading to exhaustion.

Contrast the Zoom experience to a phone call. Without all the tech to touch and visual stimulation, you can focus like a laser on the issues at hand. Less distracted, you feel more at ease, which is conducive to cultivating trust and forging friendships. As an example, I was recently rushing to an important  Zoom call, and in the final minute, I realized, to my great delight, that it was a scheduled phone call!  I am sure my cortisol levels dropped substantially. I was immediately more relaxed and soon found, without much effort, I had a more inviting, positive approach to that call. Relaxed focus is better than intense focus when creating and enhancing a relationship is a goal.

Video calls are still valuable and important.

This value predates the pandemic. But I see more clients realizing they are not the end-all-and-be-all to building strategic relationships. Recruiting high-end partners involves delicate issues best addressed with intimate, focused conversations.  Although we have all found efficiencies that many want to preserve going forward (especially involving busy lawyers in different locations), it’s worth being mindful of why certain recruiting elements existed pre-pandemic.

Zoom dominates today. What the typical business meeting will look like down the road is uncertain. While recruiting strategies likely stay tethered to Zoom for overall efficiency, I worry about an all-or-nothing approach. At the partner level, there will be competitive disadvantages for those who adhere too rigidly to video meetings for the sake of convenience.

Pivoting should not be that difficult, and I see it happening today (some). The phone is one of our oldest friends: Virtually all experienced partners have “grown-up” creating significant business (and personal) relationships over the phone. It’s fairly easy to supplement Zoom processes with this older “dial-up” technology. Encouraging follow-up phone calls (i.e. to inquire how the Zoom meeting went, clarifying or adding information, etc.) which paves the way for further personal calls at later stages, would represent a small but valuable change (I am surprised how little this occurs).

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy Zoom and have certainly built relationships on screen. We all know it’s here to stay. But maybe we need to fold back in some traditional phone calls (and face-to-face meetings – when it’s safe to do so). My guilty pleasure in recruiting is comparing the level of competitive ethos among major law firms. To those who want to win – and you know who you are – it’s worth considering the “zig and zag” of communication trends.  If everyone else is zooming, maybe it’s time to zag to make a stronger connection.

Want to discuss? Call me.

Subscribe below to follow the blog. To connect on social media, you can find me @DanHatchHGB on Twitter and LinkedIn here.

Welcome to The Long Game Blog

When I started thinking about writing a blog, I really struggled to think of topics to write about. I felt it would be similar to the old Steve Martin stand-up routine where he tells a packed SF Amphitheater a joke only for plumbers (an old but funny bit; just trust me or listen here).

Head-hunting (aka recruiting) at the law firm partner level is a niche area of business.

There are only so many partners that move each year, it being a monumental career decision that needs to fit at the right time with a law firm’s growth/hiring strategy. But I have realized there are many topics that come up in my day-to-day conversations with lawyers and firms that have broad appeal.

I want to start by describing the business I am in, even though I am not always sure what that is. Because I help lawyers and firms, I’ll first take a broad swipe at what they do. I see the lawyers and law firms I work with all growing their businesses in ways that require highly skilled relationship management. So, to me, they are in the people business.

I like to think that I’m in the happiness business.

Continue reading “Welcome to The Long Game Blog”