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You might want to ask your lawyer this: Are you a lateral?

A legal trend in recent years has been the increasingly common practice of law firms bringing in so-called "lateral" hires from competitors. The need to do so is twofold: first, to replace their own attorneys who have walked out the door and, second, to get fresh blood and experienced talent in place that can attract new clients.

A recent American Lawyer article references lateral hire-linked research that posits generally disappointing results for most firms that actively recruit laterals. Here are two major findings from the Global Lateral Hire Risk Mitigation Study:

  • Many laterals do not endure at their new firms, with about one in every three going elsewhere within five years
  • Laterals' performance is often deemed subpar by their new employers, with a frequent complaint being that they simply don't generate enough business to justify their hiring

Study researchers say that the second bullet point is especially concerning because of the implications it can have for clients that do reach out to laterals for legal representation.

To wit: Evidence shows that many pressured laterals "stretch the natural scope of their practice to secure new work," which can lead to competency issues relevant to their client representation. In some instances, the work they are doing is only remotely similar to what they did at their prior firms. In select cases, it is something they have never done before, and they are learning as they go, with clients being hurt by their lack of acumen and experience.

The risk mitigation study recommends that law firms be far more arduous and systematic in the due diligence they do as part of their lateral hiring processes.

When they are lax, researchers state, clients are more likely to suffer damages down the road and bring legal malpractice claims for harms they have suffered through incompetence and other lawyer failings.

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