When I was a semi-professional card-counting blackjack player, I legally exploited casinos through an inherent mathematical defect in the game and placed my bets in direct proportion to my advantage. I kept track of ratios between cards to determine the size of this advantage, known as the “count.” If I did not have an advantage, I would sit out a few hands until the “count” was high enough for me to come back in to the game. I would spend hours counting cards just to get a one percent edge over the house.

An edge, even a small edge of just one percent, is all you need to get ahead of your competitors. If you are slightly ahead of them, you are still ahead and you hold an advantage over them. In the lateral game of recruiting partners with loyal clients, minor changes in major areas will also pay big dividends. Here are three ideas that your firm can use to increase the odds of potential laterals moving to your firm:

1. The Message. What is the story of your firm that is going to attract that lateral partner sitting on the fence? You need to spend time discussing this with those colleagues who are involved in the lateral recruiting process. This needs to be a consistent message but must not seem contrived. The story needs to be authentic, congruent and compelling.

2. The Difference. The story also must extend beyond “a collegial culture and a robust platform.” That phrase is plain vanilla and is what everyone says. You need to say things that no other law firm can say. Most law firms do the same type of work for the same types of clients and employ the same type of people who do it.

You have to dig deep to find points of differentiation. Sometimes they might seem minor to you, but what might hold little relevance to you could be the main reason a partner moves to your firm. Don’t make judgments based on your world view but from the perspective of your prospects.

Some points of differentiation are visible on your website, such as the number of offices and the number of attorneys that are part of your firm. Other subtle but powerful points of differentiation I have come across in the past include:

– the high retention rate of partners.
– a commitment to marketing through a large and tenured marketing department.
– the process and protocols you follow to thoroughly integrate new partners.
– the structured social gatherings of your firm which makes client sharing and introductions flow easier. Do you have ‘fine wine’ and ‘craft beer’ committees to facilitate this?
– ways that make it easier for partners to communicate to each other so it is easier for them to help each other.
– technology tools that assist in collaboration on projects.
– leadership development training so that the partners are better equipped with skills required to lead teams.
– sales advisors who are adept at sniffing out pockets of opportunities. They can advise partners on how to orchestrate ways to get more business from existing clients and see patterns that are veins of gold for new vertical niches.
– the clerkship history of the associate pool.
– the number of speaking engagements that are delivered each year at business conferences and trade association meetings.
– the amount of publishing from the partnership, including textbooks, trade journals, blogs, articles, regular columns and business books.
– the tenure of the administrative and support staff.

3. The Tools. Prepare simple communication tools that make it easy for recruiters and others to tell your story. Don’t ever say to a prospective lateral, “Just look on our website to learn more about us. It’s all on there.” Visiting a website takes work. Make it easy on them. Make readily available the information they will use to choose your firm.

Put together several one sheets and put them in pdf format so that they are easy to read. Put together three types of one-sheets:

1) a firm summary one-sheet that gives an overview of your firm including key rankings.
2) an FAQ sheet that answers the most-often asked questions of prospective laterals.
3) a one-sheet for each practice group that you are trying to expand. Have it hyperlinked to biography pages of key partners and recent hires in the group.

If you implement just one of these three ideas, I am confident that it is enough to give you a significant edge in your effectiveness to recruit partners. I know this because I spend all day talking to partners who are curious about other opportunities and I know what motivates them to move. When I have a client who actively works with me in building the story based on what I have written above, then I know it’s just a matter of time before we find a star partner who will move to their firm. And just like counting cards in blackjack, a slight edge in this game always pays big dividends.

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