Law firms’ marketing departments should work closely with new lateral hires to ensure business success.

An article in the latest edition of Managing for Success highlights the perils of relying on lateral hires for your growth strategy (Knocked Sideways by Mark Brandon).

I particularly liked the expression of ‘drizzle-maker’, which is nothing to do with a British bake off and lemon drizzle cake. It was coined by a managing partner to describe ‘those hires who do not perform especially well, but bring just enough rain to wet the ground’.

Often, the marketing department is the last to hear about a new lateral hire, when called in during the induction process to draft the obligatory press release and discuss the communications plan for the new appointment. It is at this point that a few telltale signs of a drizzle-maker become apparent to the experienced marketer.

Apart from distributing the news release regarding the appointment to the media, it is usual to distribute this to the new partner’s contact list. The so-called rainmakers will be well prepared with their lists and keen to let the world know officially that they have now landed at their new firm and are open for business. The drizzle-makers may be full of excuses for why they cannot give you their contact list today, or why they have edited it to just a few contacts.

The next opportunity to showcase the new recruit may be an event – a social or a seminar. As well as introducing the new partner to the firm’s current clients, this is an occasion for the lateral hire to introduce some of their clients to the firm. Again, the number of new invitees can be a telling sign.

Marketing-savvy firms will have a system for managing their clients, contacts and opportunities, so when a new partner consistently avoids training or use of the system then more alarm bells start to sound. A quick look at LinkedIn may also be useful. Whilst I know many accomplished rainmakers who steer clear of all social media, it is interesting to watch how a personal profile is updated on LinkedIn.

Finally, a business plan is often produced during the recruitment process to demonstrate how the new partner will bring in their target business. The experienced rainmaker usually asks to meet the marketing team as soon as they can (sometimes even before they join) to set up some materials and activities in advance so that they can hit the ground running. 

Any of these signs may not be cause for concern. In fact I know some top rainmakers whose book of contacts is so hot that they barely need any marketing support. In other situations there is a ready flow of work that needs to be serviced, and new clients are not a priority.

However, when specifically hiring a new partner to bring in new business, you might benefit from letting your marketing manager spend 15 minutes with them before making that offer.

Sue Bramall is managing director of Berners Marketing and advises law firms in the UK and overseas