Adding a new partner to a firm can not only be costly, it can also require a significant investment in time and a good deal of trust.
According to Reuters, the time horizon for some to go from an associate to partner is typically 9 years. The National Law Journal has reported only 30% of associates rise to a partner position, highlighting the incredibly competitive nature of the legal industry. Bringing on a new partner can also lead to a major branding shakeup for firms, transforming its reputation.
Choosing wisely, therefore is paramount. The thought process behind selecting a partner shouldn’t rest on their experience, skills, or even their financial viability alone. When bringing a new partner into your firm, you also should consider the long-term risks of adding that person’s potential liability to your practice – particularly if they are an outside hire.
Consider the notable and infamous example of Michael Avanetti. His downfall was catastrophic financially for his firm and his reputation. What if your firm hired a partner who shared a similar past, without knowing the baggage he was bringing with him? What would happen to the reputations of your associates and partners? To the needs of your other clients? How could your firm protect these inter-connected parties while also working to protect and/or repair its own reputation?
Below are some key questions worth considering to help insulate your practice from any long-tail liabilities a new partner might bring.
- What is the Candidate’s Reputation Among Colleagues?
Lawyers talk. They talk about each other, their day-to-day at their firms, and their experiences with other lawyers, among other things. As a result, if there’s a bad apple out there, they’’ll likely be a known quantity within the legal profession. Gauging a future hire’s reputation from the perspective of their peers – what they really think about that person – is important.
- What Do Their Clients Say About Them?
Any good screening process will consider not just a lawyer’s reputation among his or her colleagues, but among clients as well. What did the people they served think about them and their character? In the face of adversity, or in the throes of a tough case, what did the lawyer do? Did the lawyer conduct him or herself ethically, with his or her integrity and character intact? Did they resort to any underhanded methods? Particularly valuable could be conversations with clients who lost their cases under the lawyer’s guidance and are unhappy. These conversations might signal possible future red flags, including lawsuits against the attorney down the road.
- What Does the Bar Association Say?
Speaking of red-flags, a good rule of thumb is to consult the state bar association when considering a new hire. They will keep a directory of all the lawyers in that state, their standing with the bar, success rates, case records, and any potential records of disciplinary or misconduct. Their records could also show pending investigations and malpractice suits.
- What Would a Google Search Show?
Sometimes just a Google search of a potential partner’s name can be quite eye-opening – particularly if they have been practicing law long enough to be considered for a partner role. Their social media histories, their ratings at websites like lawyers.com, and even Google or Yelp reviews of their law firm can tell a great deal.
This list isn’t exhaustive, so you should also consider reviewing:
- Their law school records and graduation date
- What their former classmates say
- Sex offender registries
Finally, consider purchasing an appropriate lawyers professional liability insurance (LPLI) policy to protect your firm. Though these policies don’t cover criminal acts, they will cover the firm’s defense costs and potentially protect against successful claims against the firm itself related to the work product of its attorneys – even new additions to the firm. By working with an insurance specialist who understands the unique risks of law firms, you can be confident your firm is in good hands. Taking a proactive approach when considering a new partner, can not only help you protect the reputation and integrity of your firm, it can also help you to protect your staff, your financial viability and the clients you serve.