Legal recruiters have noticed elevated interest in acquiring whole teams as opposed to individuals as of late. There are, they say, numerous reasons for this.
In recent months, there have been a string of BigLaw firms poaching teams and sets of partners from their rivals in the big end of town.
These include Wotton + Kearney’s adding of a team from Corrs Chambers Westgarth in mid-January and its taking of a team from MinterEllison the following week, K&L Gates appointing three partners from HWL Ebsworth in December and then another partner and four more lawyers from the same firm in late January, and Bartier Perry taking four partners from mid-tier firm Coleman Grieg earlier in February.
These latest developments follow a string of poachings in Perth in 2022, the sum of which was reported by way of an in-depth exploration of the West Australian market in November.
There are, of course, various other recruitment trends to watch out for right now, including the slowing down of salaries, the rise of the “loyalty tax”, and skills shortage-inspired stagnant growth.
However, with a recession potentially set to hit Australia later this year (depending on whom you ask), the advent of BigLaw firms moving to take entire teams and key partners from competitors at this critical juncture is a trend that is worth diving into.
A trend not unique to Australia
Team moves have become more commonplace over recent years, explained Beacon Legal director Alex Gotch.
In the United Kingdom, he said, “entire teams have opted to move from top UK firms to similar US firms, with a view to offering a similar service, the lawyers working similar hours but receiving significantly more pay. Partners can pitch this prospect very effectively to get their teams on board.”
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“In Australia, where there is a huge shortage of talent, partners realise that their success is often based on their ability to retain and attract talent, so they make this a primary consideration when considering a move.”
According to nrol director Jesse Shah: “Poaching, or as we refer to it in the recruitment world, ‘lateral hiring’, is on the rise more than ever.”
The legal profession, he said, has become increasingly competitive, even more so since COVID-19, with law firms vying for the best talent in order to stay ahead of the game.
“‘Lateral hiring’ has now become common practice, as it is a way for firms to quickly add experienced, high-performing lawyers to their teams. Firms are now willing to offer attractive packages to lure the top talent away from their competitors, both financially and with the offers of career advancements, personal growth and flexible work arrangements,” he detailed.
Firms need to maintain their competitive advantage, Mr Shah reflected, “and I only see ‘lateral hiring’ on the rise and see it as positive in many instances as it allows new career growth and opportunities for lawyers and increases the expertise and diversity in firms”.
A separate factor that is driving such lateral hiring, Mr Shah added, is the increased specialisation of the legal profession.
“Firms are now seeking lawyers with specific expertise areas, and therefore, it is increasingly difficult for firms to find this talent through more traditional recruitment.
“As such, ‘lateral hiring’ through competitors has now increased,” he said.
Burgess Paluch director Paul Burgess supported this, noting that firms are “struggling to fill vacancies and often working at capacity within their own teams”.
As such, he said, “with fewer internal resources available, they are taking the chance to hire quality lawyers with the partner or partners moving across”.
Mr Burgess also mused that there has most definitely been more interest in taking whole teams recently.
In the past, he told Lawyers Weekly, “firms were taking a more conservative approach, being cautious about incurring greater initial outlay by taking on whole teams”.
However, he said, this seems to have changed.
He pointed to the fact that, more recently, firms have appeared “keen to lock in the relationships between the incoming partner and their clients by taking on key team members or even whole teams, leaving the outgoing firm less able to service clients and ensuring the successful transfer of work”.
In the near future, Mr Gotch suggested, those confident they can bring their team with them are far more likely to move.
“The impact of this growing trend should motivate law firms, even more so than they do already, to focus on ensuring their holistic offering to staff and partners is ahead of their competition,” he advised.
Burgess Paluch director Doron Paluch noted that recruiters like him are still working mostly with partners who make the move alone.
“Partners are often naturally conservative, and it can be more of a dramatic move when a team follows,” he explained.
But, he added, “firms definitely have more of an appetite recently for the acquisition of whole teams”.