Partners: Have Your Book Ready--And Your "Synergy" Spiel Too
A short note on partner metrics. I always enjoy reading MacEwen's thoughts on law and economics, but I have to say I have a bone to pick with him on his post back in May about partner metrics.
He opines there, quite rightly, that firms are looking for alot more than just the "size of the book". They also want someone who is going to add something to their practice in terms of substantive practice that expands their reach. It is not enough to just bring immediate profits (as bringing over a partner is always risky--the clients aren't obligated to play along, after all). Rather, partners must be able to give a strong story for how they will be able to mesh with the firm's over-all strategic plan. Of course, this assumes they have one.
Which brings me to my point. MacEwen goes a little off the ranch (sorry, Bruce) by saying that book is "irrelevant". It is not irrelevant, should not be irrelevant, cannot be irrelevant. Here's why:
1) Competition among firms to attract and RETAIN talent is too stiff to allow firms the luxury of not thinking about IMMEDIATE benefit. There are (conceivably) scores of attorneys that could fit into a firm culture, that can make a pitch for "fit", a pitch for "synergy", a pitch for "expanding capacity" of the target firm. Yawn. What firms cannot afford NOT to ask is "how much synergy have you already demonstrated you can create, buster?" I mean, if PPEP isn't the law-firm version of quarterly profits for the DOW JONES blue chip companies, then what is it? Firms can't afford forays and excursions and investing in maybe's. They need to keep the numbers up, all the time, every year, without fail. If they don't, they lose people (well, they lose them anyway, but they lose more!).
2) Frankly, just as I opined in my piece on the "irradiation of grades", Bruce has identified a whole new vista of criteria for judging talent, but not to the exclusion of tried-and-true metrics. I think the best criterion for potential for bringing long-term growth and profit to a firm is the track record of an individual in so bringing it. The days for "not talking about size of book" are so over, if there ever was such a time.
3) Thus, it is the same (new) old story: the pond is shrinking, standards are up, more is more. If you want to be recruited to a new platform, you must not only be able to sing and dance and have a substantive practice that will strategically expand a target firm's reach, but you must also have a demonstrated book.
4) Even if Bruce is right and book SHOULD be ignored, I can tell you that it most assuredly is not being ignored, nor does it look like it will be anytime soon. I mean, in my markets (San Francisco and Los Angeles), book inflation is going through the roof. One million in immediately transferable book is now a FLOOR, people. Three years ago it was a golden ticket. Firms don't want to say it, but they can barely pull their eyes away from their blackberrys for a book of less than $1.2 mil. Synergy be damned. Firms (largely) already know what they want: more of the same, in more places. They aren't even going to talk to you unless they already know they need what you've got.
Book is bank!
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