Senior hires can take your business higher

Hiring your first senior staff member is a significant milestone in the growth of any law firm. The right person can transform operations, increase the client base and broaden regional or sector expertise. But getting it wrong could be costly.

Michael Ellenhorn, Co-Founder & General Counsel - Decipher

The good news for smaller law firms is that these days there are many ways to reduce the risk – and they’re not overly expensive. We asked Michael Ellenhorn, Co-Founder and General Counsel of corporate intelligence providers, Decipher, for his views.

So, how can small firms avoid hiring the wrong person?

“They should start by conducting a thorough overview of lateral partner disclosures, lateral partner questionnaires and due diligence questionnaires. They need to see all the information that’s out there for the asking. It will involve some staff time, but not much money.”

“They should also use some good old fashioned common sense and look out for non-disclosure issues too. Read the CV carefully, study the Law Society report and their own initial disclosures. Just those few actions will suggest where potential non-disclosure issues might arise.”

“Beyond that there are basic insolvency, criminal, employment and consumer credit reports that are relatively affordable – even for smaller law firms.

“And then, finally, it’s worth considering independent outside due diligence. Firms like ours, Decipher, have really professionalised this area and substantially reduced costs, so that even smaller firms can now access very high end and sophisticated due diligence.”

What about hiring internationally?

“Again, many law firms will use outside or third-party provider these days, so it’s important to find one with a keen understanding of what the background laws and regulations are for each jurisdiction.”

“For example, no other country in the world has anything as sophisticated and intricate as the United States does with the fair credit reporting act. However, in sub Saharan Africa, there are very different regulations, traditions and cultural trends which will require a different approach.”

“And in areas like continental Europe or South America, the background check regimes are less concerned with the rights of individuals in terms of referencing or vetting, but far more concerned with data protection.”

Even within Europe, there are differences.

“That’s right. Doing a background check, especially on a lawyer, in Paris is very different to doing one in Vienna. They are very different regulatory regimes, but they can still be navigated relatively straightforwardly.”

Are hire risks greater for smaller companies?

“I think that the impact of any significant lateral hire on any firm really can’t be overstated. But, the risk for a smaller firm, where there isn’t a culture of lateral hires, can be enormously magnified.”

“However, I would again stress that the basic tenets of lateral hire due diligence and vetting can be applied to large and small firms with equal success. It can be done very effectively in a relatively short period of time and it doesn’t have to break the bank.”