When HR meets PR

November 14, 2011

How lateral hires can work wonders for a firm’s reputation

Photo: iStock











A great lateral hire can be a strategic masterstroke for a law firm. Enticing a talented lawyer – or team – from another firm can be critical to the growth and increased profitability of a practice group.

But less obvious is the huge boost a good lateral hire can bring to a firm’s market reputation.

Press coverage

Just take a look at the legal trade press. Every week, there are several stories dedicated to the latest lateral hire. A recent story in The Lawyer was Berwin Leighton Paisner’s (BLP) success in poaching litigation partner Kent Philips from Addleshaw Goddard.

The headline read: ‘Addleshaws’ Singapore plans stall as launch partner defects to BLP’.

Take or leave the emotive language. That’s the press for you. But few would have gone away without thinking… what’s so good about BLP that Philips was willing to up sticks in the middle of a launch?

On the same day, The Lawyer covered Osborne Clark’s (OC) recruitment of two partners and two lawyers as consultants. An unremarkable enough story when put like that.

Package it up with the headline ‘Osborne Clarke ramps up in London with quartet of hires’ and you can almost feel the glow of the furnace from OC’s industrious empire building.

The published story goes further. Considerable space is given for readers to:

  1. Absorb The Lawyer’s appraisal of the firm’s overarching strategy: that this is not piecemeal or opportunistic recruitment but part of a bigger London reinforcement or even expansion plan;
  2. Take in Osborne Clarke’s own strategic view of the hires, which builds on The Lawyer’s slant by describing the appointments as the ‘next wave of a number of partner hires at OC over the next few months’; and
  3. Speculate on what is so attractive about Osborne Clarke that it managed to simultaneously attract three private practice lawyers from competitors, and one from an in-house role at the Bank of New York Mellon.

Combined the effect leaves the reader with the impression that OC is a firm that is going places. But, as with the BLP story, it is the unspoken speculation that really drives the point home.

Maximising the PR opportunity

And that is why a lateral hire story can be so powerful: it invites speculation of the most positive kind for the hiring firm. It is, quite simply, the kind of PR that money can’t buy.

Of course, this can work the other way too. In every lateral hire story there is a firm that loses out. Delve a little deeper and you’ll see that Osborne Clarke poached a real-estate lawyer from, wait for it, BLP. Swings and roundabouts spring to mind.

But what would you remember from the stories of that day? That BLP lost a lawyer? Or that OC has gone on a London expansion drive while BLP reportedly stalled a rival’s plans?

In these uncertain economic times, firms continue to devote considerable time and energy to effective lateral hiring.

But the really canny ones are those that truly understand and maximise the power of the press in turning a simple hire into a massive reputational boost. CP


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