The LFQ—Lateral Firm Questionnaire, or What Lateral Partner Candidates Need to Know
Virtually every law firm engaged in lateral partner recruiting requires candidates to fill out an LPQ, or Lateral Partner Questionnaire, as part of its vetting process. The LPQ requires submission of information critical to the firm’s decision-making process going beyond basic resume information (such as the candidate’s educational and employment background), but delves into areas such as client base, billings and col- lections, and various ethics issues such as malpractice claims, involvement on corporate boards, etc.
Just as firms realize the importance of digging into what candidates’ would bring with them, it’s equally important for lateral partner candidates to dig deeper into what is beyond the readily apparent with their prospective law firm employers, and even more important in the post-COVID era. The way a law firm handled the economic shutdown and reopening, as well as its management and financial posture afterward, are vital considerations when determining which firm would be the best fit for the candidate and, for partner candidates, her clients.
Astonishingly, a few years ago, an American Lawyer survey found that most lateral partner candidates never asked even the most basic questions of their potential new firms about finances, firm management, or their partnership agreements. It is shocking that sophisticated business lawyers who never would allow a client to enter a business combination without scouring the books, wouldn’t do the same for themselves.
Perhaps partners who have been with one firm for many years assume that all law firms are alike. From 40,000 feet they may seem alike – comprised of smart, usually personable lawyers, with sophisticated clients and businesses. But, once you drop below 40,000 feet, firms can be very different. Compensation systems vary and management styles vary, all resulting in different incentives and different firm cultures.
For a lateral partner move to be successful, a potential lateral should understand that firms are different and he or she must understand the internal moving parts – and incentives – before s/he makes the jump. How to garner that information? Just as the firms do – ask. And, among the questions to ask in a COVID-19 pandemic era, are questions directed at obtaining information to assess which firm is better positioned to ride out any turbulence for long term success.
Just as most firms, at some point in the courting ritual, require that prospective lateral partners complete an LPQ, we propose that a senior lawyer contemplating a move consider something similar—an “LFQ” or “Lateral Firm Questionnaire”—a checklist of the information the lateral partner candidate needs to make a sound decision. To that end, we created a generic LFQ a few years ago. We reprint it here with some post-COVID updates.
But, first, a couple of caveats:
Caveat #1: Who should use our LFQ?
Our LFQ is for the more senior lawyer whose compensation most likely will be based upon a combination of individual performance and firm performance. Thus, the candidate will need to know a lot more, such as:
- What is the general health of the firm?
- What is the firm’s history with laterals?
- Are the firm’s structure and billing practices likely to positively affect the lateral’s ability to attract and service clients?
- What is the firm’s leadership modus operendi?
Caveat #2: When to ask? Timing is everything.
Just as the easiest way to scare off a potential suitor is to ask probing questions on the first date about future plans, earning potential and the like, clearly, the candidate and prospective law firm want to establish mutual interest before broaching the hard questions. Even in the age of Twitter, there is information that is sensitive. The best time to ask these questions is when the prospective firm presents its LPQ, hence the posture is “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.” With that symmetry, it’s a lot less awkward.
But remember, our LFQ is a little tongue-in-cheek. It doesn’t have to be a formal document; rather, it’s more of a checklist to make sure your candidate gets all the information enabling a wise decision. And they should be reminded that, in addition, there may well be opportune times to pick up bits and pieces along the way.
Caveat #3: How? Don’t be too pushy – you want this job! But be pushy enough. Before you really know if you want the job, you need this information.
If the firm’s reaction is to label a candidate as pushy for asking for the information – that is, in itself, the most telling information. A firm’s reluctance to share this information to someone who would come in at a senior position says volumes. So, advise your candidate to pay attention not only to the answers to the questions posed, but also to the reaction to the fact that they were asked. The firm that should be attractive to a potential lateral is one that values lawyers who make important decisions based upon germane information, gathered at the appropriate time.
In fact, some of our law firm clients have told us that the failure of candidates to ask these questions raises a red flag. It reflects negatively on the candidate’s seriousness, sophistication, or judgment. It even can signal a sense of desperation to make a move—any move. You certainly don’t want your candidates to send these negative messages, and you want them fully informed, so they make the best career choices (and placements that “stick.”)