There was a time in the legal industry when it was practically unheard of for a lawyer to leave a law firm. They spent their entire careers at one firm unless they moved on to the judiciary or legislative branch of government. That time is long gone in the legal industry as well as most other industries. Today, law firms compete on many levels for talent including:
- Higher rate of compensation
- Lower annual billable hour quotas
- More desirable billable rate structures
- Municipal wage taxes
- Partner tract
- Benefits packages
- Compensation for origination of matters outside of practice group
- Law firm culture
As a result, law firms almost inevitably find themselves in the position of either welcoming or saying goodbye to attorneys and sometimes entire legal departments.
Lateral changes can be fraught with communication challenges including contractual obligations such as non-competes, ethical considerations and client outreach concerns. Being proactive and engaging your communications team early whenever possible can ensure that the process runs more smoothly for everyone involved.
There are steps that a law firm can take to be proactive in their messaging, marketing and public relations no matter if a lawyer is leaving or joining the firm. As with many legal marketing efforts, careful planning and strategic thinking is key to ultimate success. Work with your communications team, in advance whenever possible, whether internal or strategic partner, to manage the announcement of lateral moves.
When your law firm is losing lawyers
There are a lot of things to consider when your firm is losing legal talent such as who is leaving, why they are leaving, whether the relationship is contentious or amicable, how the departure is going to affect clients, whether the person was a named partner, etc. Each of these situations can lead to a different strategy in handling the message.
I have seen it play out where a law firm and its public relations agency tried to get out in front of a message when a named partner was leaving but outreach backfired. In this case, the firm announced that the named partner was leaving and that she didn’t have plans to go anywhere at that time. When a reporter contacted the attorney, she explained that she had in fact signed an agreement to join another firm that very day. The news coverage then focused on where the attorney was going as opposed to the firm she was leaving.
A different way to handle the same situation would be to announce that the firm is rebranding to better communicate its core message, offerings and benefits while acknowledging the fact that the named partner is leaving. Capitalize on the positive aspects that are inherent with any change.
It is also imperative for your web team to perform “301 redirects” from the attorney’s bio and other pages specifically about that attorney on your website to the firm’s homepage or another relevant page on the website. That way, if someone stumbles upon a link, they won’t get an error message or be directed to a blank page on your website. It can take days or months for search engines to re-index your website so pages that are removed today can still be seen as active indexed links. Make the redirects work for you.
When your law firm gains new lawyers laterally
As soon as it is practically possible, alert your communications team that a new lawyer or lawyers will be joining the team. While there are certainly a slew of HR considerations such as office space, business cards, letterhead, personal stationery, telephone extensions, email addresses, and the like, there are an equal number of marketing considerations.
One of the first things you will want to do is schedule a professional photo session to get a headshot that is usable, designed the same as the other headshots on your website, and ready at press time when the announcement is made. Be sure to ask the photographer for a high resolution image (at least 300 dpi or better for a minimum of 5×7 printing) and a low resolution image (72 dpi) for web usage.
The second item on the communications list is to draft a bio that is consistent with those on your firm’s existing website without using pirated prose from the previous law firm. There are always copyright considerations even though the information is factual. Therefore, rewrite the bio and focus on the benefits of what the attorney does for his or her clients.
The third item is to get the bio up on the website even before any public announcements are made. This is not always possible, but when it is, having the contact information, background information and headshot on the website will ensure that people know where to reach the attorney. On a side note, be sure to test the new email address from an external email system. It is all too common for IT to forget to add the new email address to the SPAM filter list. When this happens, the new email bounces back to anyone outside of the law firm network as undeliverable.
When welcoming a new attorney, other considerations include how and when you are going to announce the news internally, to the press, to the attorney’s network and to the firm’s network. It is imperative that you let your internal people know before the announcement reaches the public. Then, consider external tactics such as issuing a press release, mailing a firm announcement, and/or issuing an electronic announcement. You will need to determine in advance which of these communication tactics will work best to reach your target audiences. For the most part, it may be necessary to do all three, but that is not always the case.
Finally, no matter what the situation, remember that lateral moves are commonplace and often fodder for headline industry news. As a result, be prepared to speak to the press no matter if you are losing or gaining talent. Don’t ever be disparaging, keep the statements positive and remember that you get more with honey than you do with vinegar.
Gina F. Rubel, Esq., is the owner of Furia Rubel Communications, Inc., a strategic marketing and public relations agency with a niche in legal marketing. A former trial attorney, Gina is the author of Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers. Gina and her agency have won many awards for legal communications, PR, media relations, website and graphic design, strategic planning, corporate philanthropy and leadership. She maintains a blog at www.ThePRLawyer.com, is a contributor to National Law Review, The Legal Intelligencer Blog, AVVO Lawyernomics and The Huffington Post. You can find her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ginafuriarubel or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ginarubel. For more information, go to www.FuriaRubel.com.