Law Firm Strategies For Publicizing Laterals Amid Lockdowns

By Andrew Longstreth, Jesse Dungan and Michael Coston
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Law360 (July 8, 2020, 4:11 PM EDT) --
Andrew Longstreth
Andrew Longstreth
Jesse Dungan
Jesse Dungan
Michael Coston
Michael Coston
As firms confronted challenges wrought by the pandemic, lateral hiring slowed earlier this year. But the music didn't completely stop. In some areas, notably restructuring, the pace was brisk. And recent reporting suggests that that the lateral market is heating back up as more firms see this moment as a buying opportunity.

But it won't be business as usual for these new partners. The pandemic has altered the business development landscape for new laterals, taking away traditional in-person networking events and relationship-building opportunities to promote their practices. This shift has come as many firms have made layoffs, cut salaries and furloughed employees.

Under these unprecedented conditions, promoting new lateral hires is more crucial than ever and more challenging. To be sure, many of the marketing tactics used before the pandemic hit still apply. But with business development dinners and social events no longer viable, a refreshed game plan is needed — one that maps out public relations, published content, and virtual relationship building and business development opportunities that maximize the lateral hiring event and fully exploit the digital landscape.

Messaging Matters

Every lateral hire is an opportunity to tell a story — ideally more than once — to the media, market, clients and colleagues. It should not go to waste.

But before crafting any communications, law firms need to spend time thinking about which stories they want to tell and which stories are likely to resonate with each target audience. It's tempting to focus on the former and neglect the latter. The key is to find stories that help accomplish both goals.

Imagine yourself sitting in the chair of a journalist, colleague or client. What does this move say about the lawyer, the firm's offerings, a practice group, or a more significant market trend? Perhaps it emphasizes strength in a practice of growing importance due to the pandemic, or highlights a proven leader who will mentor up-and-coming lawyers amid turbulent times.

Take the time to get these messages as tight as possible — they will form the basis of various communications for all the key constituencies. They include a press release, talking points for spokespeople, social media messages, internal communications, and client communications. Together, these messages should be consistent but targeted for each audience.

Law firms also need to give thoughtful consideration to the roster of spokespeople that can help tell the story to the press. Who can best articulate what the hire means? Do they need to be trained for talking to the media? Also, is there a third-party commentator, for example, who can put the hire in context for reporters?

Media Management

A press release announcing the lateral hire is essential for obvious reasons. But its value and power shouldn't be overestimated. Seen as a one-shot opportunity, marketers and lawyers tend to overstuff them with too many messages and too much extraneous information. An effective press release should provide the most relevant information and the most important messages near the top with relevant keywords throughout for search engine optimization.

The press release should be viewed as a first step in promoting a lateral hire, not the last. It is a tool to support media outreach. It's not a substitute for the crucial work of pitching a story to reporters. When offering a reporter an exclusive story, for example, an embargoed press release can help get a reporter up to speed efficiently. But it takes a targeted pitch and deft negotiations to get a reporter to commit to a story.

A press release can also be used as supporting material for more targeted pitching to regional, business and industry publications. A lawyer making a jump to another firm may be newsworthy to only a handful of outlets. But that should not limit the outreach to those outlets. The PR plan should always extend beyond the first day of coverage to include news hooks to engage with reporters who could benefit from the lawyer's expertise.

And don't forget, a journalist's job is to source their own stories and not wait to have them hand-delivered. So, if you are announcing a high-profile lateral or group, be prepared for leaks. Have a holding statement ready and a plan of action in case a journalist informs you they already have enough information to run a story. The key is to keep control of the narrative.

And lastly, always consider the larger context of an announcement to avoid any criticism of being tone-deaf. Over the last five months, for example, we've seen firms prudently pause announcements amid dire news around the pandemic and demonstrations for racial justice.

Internal and Client Communication

One of the most overlooked audiences for a new lateral hire is the other lawyers at the firm. To truly maximize the business development potential of a new hire, everyone internally should understand the market opportunities and how the new hire will be able to help the firm's clients. With in-person networking events limited, there is more urgency to virtual selling. Armed with the right information and attractive value propositions, lawyers can become effective salespeople and connectors for their new colleagues.

The timing of such communications should be carefully planned. The risk of press leaks rises along with increased internal communication. So ideally, any firmwide message should be timed as close to the public announcement as possible.

Client communications should also come at the same time or just before a public announcement. No firm wants its clients to learn about a new hire through the media. But again, an email should be sent just before a public announcement to prevent leaks. If high-value clients need to be informed earlier, it's best to make phone calls.

Content Calendar

A high-profile lateral will often garner a substantial amount of earned media, that is publicity gained through promotional efforts other than paid media advertising. But earned media should only be one part of the promotion plan.

A content calendar designed for a new hire should also be included. Ideally, the calendar should map out a few pieces — a byline, webinar, Q&A or LinkedIn post — for the first 60 days of the lawyer's arrival. Underlying these pieces of content should be a clear understanding of the key audiences for the firm and the lawyer, as well as the best platforms to use. For instance, a tech-focused Silicon Valley lawyer whose clients are used to hearing from them via may want to stick with that platform.

These well-timed pieces will ensure that the newly hired lawyer stays top of mind, which is essential in this environment when traditional networking events and in-person meetings are less frequent. They can also form the basis for a continued cadence of content.

Virtual Introductions

Once upon a time, firms would welcome new laterals with a cocktail reception or a big fancy dinner, giving them the chance to meet their new colleagues and schmooze with firm clients. Then the firm would send them to other offices to make additional connections.

That kind of reception is now on hold. And that means firms must become more adept and purposeful in making virtual introductions for lateral hires to practice area leaders and partners with key client relationships. Building relationships virtually is especially crucial for lateral hires who may not have brought big books of business with them, such as former government officials.

The first step should be to identify the best cross-selling opportunities among the firm's clients and then introduce the new hire to the key relationship partners. Those relationship partners now must be more purposeful in getting their new colleagues virtually in front of clients. Also, considering the increased frequency and importance of virtual meetings in the wake of the pandemic, it's important for lawyers to sharpen their virtual presentation skills to ensure that their communications style and content are effective and compelling.

The bottom line: The world has changed in the last few months. Law firms promoting new laterals need to recognize this change and adapt.

Andrew Longstreth is head writer and Jesse Dungan is a vice president at Infinite Global.

Michael Coston is CEO at Coston Consulting.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice. 

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