Michelle Chance outlines some of the key issues to be considered by management in law firms when recruiting teams and partners. 

Tips for law firms recruiting teams 

  • The recruiting firm should make clear to any departing partners and employees that they should not do anything that may breach their contractual obligations or restrictions to their former firm.
  • The start date in any written offers should be expressed as being “as soon as you are able to join us”.
  • Offer letters to employees should not be conditional on the partner they currently work for joining the new firm. Nor should reference be made in any offer letters to the departing employees and partner commencing work on the same date.
  • Team members (i.e. partners and employees) should be instructed not to discuss moving to the new firm on their current firm’s telephone or email systems (including mobiles).
  • Departing partners should not be asked to disclose team information to a headhunter/ recruitment consultancy. It is likely to constitute a breach of their duty of confidentiality if they tell them which team members to approach. The headhunter organisation should instead carry out its own investigations. Under no circumstances should departing partners be involved in the recruitment or interview process for any of their former team members.

Tips for law firms hiring new partners

  • Do not send emails to your prospective recruit’s work email address relating to the recruitment process or any actual move. Do not call his work landline. It is common practice for a law firm to monitor phone calls and emails once a partner has given notice. It may also look at recent historic emails and calls for evidence of any breaches of obligations if it has grounds for concern.
  • Do not encourage the partner to reveal confidential information about clients during the recruitment process. While the disclosure of general information about the industry sector to which clients belong may be acceptable, if a partner discloses specific names of clients, that would be a breach of good faith and client confidentiality, unless it is in the public domain that the partner acts for that client. While the recruiting firm could enter into a confidentiality agreement with the partner being interviewed in order to undertake not to disclose the identity of clients or try to poach clients if discussions are not progressed, such a document would be disclosable in any proceedings that the partner’s current firm may subsequently institute.
  • Do not encourage disclosure of any confidential information from a prospective or incoming partner that belongs to his current firm (such as client business development lists or team information).
  • Do not make announcements to staff or clients about the incoming partner’s arrival until he has resigned from his current firm.
  • Do not put pressure on the new partner to lure client work away from his old firm until the restrictive convenant period has elapsed.

This blog is an amended version of an article which first appeared in Managing Partner.