Wondering what information a law firm partner will be asked to provide to a target firm during the courting process? Paul Burgess shares his experiences.
When law firm partners step across to the other side of the interviewing table the level of due diligence rises, often substantially. Here are my experiences on what a partner should have at the ready when embarking on a move.
1. A resume
Old habits die hard… Resumes/CV’s are actually very useful for employers, so commence your search by knocking one up. Advice on how to prepare one and precedents are easy to come by, such as this link to ours: legal CV preparation In our experience, no matter how well known the parties may be to each other, someone in the target firm will request a CV at some point, so get it out the way early. There will be plenty of other things to work on down the track! A current firm profile will also assist.
2. A list of current/past clients and their fees
How, when and how transparently you present this information will differ depending on the situation, but in most cases at around second interview you will be asked to provide a list of your clients, the type of work you do for them, and what they account for in billables each year. In some cases firms will, as a requirement, seek details of the amounts billed for each client for the last three financial years, so compile this information early and keep it in a spreadsheet for future use.
3. A business plan
Usually sought by the target firm around second or third interview, or shortly afterwards, a business plan specifically drawn up for each firm is usually expected. While getting in early with a general business plan can be a great starting point, and can actually help shape a partner in the decision making process on who to approach, a tailored plan for each firm will be needed at some point. After all, it’s one thing to have a past history with clients, it’s another thing for a law firm to see exactly how that will fit in with their practice and what you will do to ensure it successfully transfers across and how you will build on it with them.
4. Copies of your restraints
Usually sought towards the end of the process, a savvy firm will actually ask for restraints to be provided early on, as part of the decision making process rather than after it. Nevertheless, it’s important to consider how any restraints may operate and what steps can be taken strategically to work with or around them. You might also like to consider your notice period and how that may affect the move or its timing.
5. Rates/Fee arrangements
Firms will usually want to know your standard rates, recovery rate, panel or set fee deals. Again, consider them early in the process, particularly panels, and have details ready for when they are requested.
6. Team and team billings
Often early on in the process firms will want to set the scene with who is in your current team, who is crucial to its success and the portability of clients, what each team member bills, and the resources you will need to make the move a success and the cost of those resources.
7. Estimated billings
One of the first things you will be asked, probably before you even start to look at law firms, is what your estimated billings will be in a new firm. There is a plethora of different ways to estimate future billings, but you will usually be asked to give a range of estimated billings, both for the first 12 months and the longer term. Our favoured method to determine billings is working off your client billings spreadsheet as set out above, applying a percentage chance each client will move with you, allocating a figure if they will move, and then using those figures to get a total of estimated billings. While it won’t ever give an exact figure, it will give you a good idea of what is likely and will be a clear and rational document to provide to a firm to explain how you reached your figure or range.
As an aside, while fees should never be over-estimated, our experience is that firms usually deduct around 10% or more from whatever figures are provided, so obviously if you are too conservative you won’t be able to command the package you should receive. You should of course also capture all internally referred revenue that your clients generate that will be portable.
8. Your current draw/profit share
Again, you will probably be asked this early on. Being a direct and time-starved recruiter, I often open with it in the first five minutes, just after discussing the weather and before the coffees have arrived. Brutal as it may seem, that all important ratio or gap between what you bill and what you want to be paid will be a key determinant, so consider this early on. Given that even the most successful partners often commence as salaried partners during a proving period, also give some thought to how you can be best remunerated during any proving period.
9. Conflicts and Panels
I mentioned panels above, and for most insurance or finance lawyers, panel considerations will be first of mind when making a move. Conflicts, however, are often harder to determine in the early stages, particularly where they are not obvious. While there are plenty of partners working behind Chinese walls, early consideration to who act for whom, who has acted against your clients and who acts for your client’s arch-nemesis is useful.
While employees usually have to provide two referees, partners with practices are usually required to provide more. I have had cases where as many as six clients were called during the process. Again, while every situation differs, turn your mind early on to who you will be offering at the late stages. Usually at least one lawyer as well as a few clients will be sought.