Lateral Hires: Is Your Information Management Plan Ready for the Baggage?

If you’re hiring away from the competition, be sure to consider how you’ll integrate those newcomers’ client and personal files into your information management practices. Once you’ve done that, take them all out for sushi.

Looking to expand a strategic practice group at your firm or command a new market quickly? We hear there’s some great talent just down the street. Many firms like yours are expanding their range of expertise, client base and revenue stream—all in one very clever chess move.

After slowing down considerably during the recession, lateral recruiting rose 40 percent in 2010, and 2011 data from an Altman Weil, Inc. survey of 240 law firms showed a similar trend. According to that report, 91.6 percent of respondents have been using a lateral hiring strategy. Additionally, a recent American Lawyer survey revealed that more than half of managing partners surveyed spend “more than 10 percent of their time” on lateral hiring.

What’s driving this boom? For firms looking to grow their revenue stream and beef up different practice groups, shopping the competition is a top strategy, according to the American Lawyer report—especially in areas such as litigation or corporate law. With a lateral hire, you’re essentially buying portable business, including proven legal talent and clients.

But before you start your talent raid, know that new hires’ client and personal files can present some formidable records management challenges. These include:

  • Excess baggage. New hires may bring along liabilities or potential conflicts with important clients at your firm. Identify these trouble spots right away, then set up ethical walls or take other action to mitigate the risk.
  • Mixed media. Even if you’re a progressive paperless firm, your incoming lawyers will no doubt bring both paper and electronic files. You can accommodate these files by developing a unified paper and electronic records policy, if you don’t already have one in place.  
  • Social status. A rush of posting and tweeting newcomers may accelerate your firm’s creation of a social media policy, if you don’t already have one. Review the new hires’ blog posts, tweets or other social media postings from a compliance and PR perspective.

Moving Sideways

If you decide to tackle these issues, consider taking the following actions: 

  • Unify now. Make sure you have a unified paper and electronic records policy. Otherwise, lateral moves will compound your existing policy shortcomings.
  • Avoid future chaos. Establish policies and procedures for handling all lateral hires’ files­­­, and make sure these best practices also address information leaving your firm with departing attorneys. This way, a new wave of hires won’t take you by surprise.
  • Establish a formal process for accepting (or rejecting) client files.  Work with incoming lawyers to determine which new client documents you will now manage and safeguard to meet ethical and legal requirements. Then consider notifying their former firms about the files you are and are not accepting.
  • Identify (and resolve) potential conflicts or liabilities. All new information calls for a formal review process. Make sure new hires don’t just dump a thumb drive full of client and personal data onto their new firm-supplied laptop and back it up to your network. 
  • Develop a similar process for transferring information out. Have a protocol in place for communicating with a client moving to a new firm with an attorney departing your firm. Be very clear about who now bears responsibility for managing and safeguarding their vital information.
  • Indoctrinate early. Don’t give the new attorneys time to develop bad habits—train them on your program right away. And make sure the firm’s partners clearly and vocally support your information management policies.
  • Manage the new mountains. Find out when your firm’s retention timeline officially starts on laterals’ information, and then start weeding out what you can destroy. This sets the course for sustained reductions in storage costs.

Law Firm Information Management Gurus: Tap the Mojo

Integrating and managing files while also plugging the gaps in your firm’s records management practices may seem overwhelming to even the most accomplished records manager or director of information governance. So consider teaming with a trusted partner to help you establish and implement your information management policies. The future of your firm may just depend on it.

Time to Team Up?

It takes a great deal of time and human resources for information management to truly create efficiencies for your firm. Consider engaging a partner with deep law firm expertise, such as Iron Mountain, to help you:

  • Simplify administration. Bringing in a web of service providers can drive up your costs and slow your ability to efficiently deliver legal services. Consider consolidating your information services—across all offices—with a single vendor that has the law firm expertise you require.
  • Take control of your information volumes. Though hoarding may seem like an easy risk-reducer, guess again: This practice hinders accessibility and response times while driving up discovery risks and costs. Let Iron Mountain help you keep only what’s required; destroy and digitize the rest.
  • Make it safe. You’re committed to maintaining the confidentiality and overall security of your client, firm and employee files. With six decades of experience in secure records management, Iron Mountain is uniquely qualified to help your firm meet this objective.

Great Days for M&As: Mergers and Acquisitions on the Rise

Lateral hiring isn’t the only way to add revenue and strengthen your practice. Since January 2011, the legal profession has seen 60 mergers and acquisitions—a 54 percent increase year over year. In fact, 67 percent of firms surveyed recently by Altman Weil cite mergers and acquisitions as a primary growth strategy.

Guess what? The same information management issues that law firms face with lateral hires will also surface as M&A bugaboos. In fact, when a firm takes on an acquired firm’s liabilities in a pure merger, these issues intensify.

Do you have more questions about your firm’s information management options? Check out our additional Knowledge Center stories and law firm solutions overview. You can even chat live with a knowledgeable product and services specialist.

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