How to draft a compelling business plan when making a lateral move

7 min read

June 26, 2023 – Even the most charming and well-known partners will be required to complete a Lateral Partner Questionnaire (LPQ) when embarking on a lateral move — which, more likely than not, will also call for a business plan. The business plan should not be an afterthought; it is your opportunity to state your business case and show off your ability to bring in business to the new firm.

The LPQ and business plan may be reviewed by people such as the CFO who have not had the benefit of speaking with you in detail about your business case, so be mindful that your written materials should be strong enough to stand on their own.

Many lawyers write business plans to use each year, and if you have such a document, that’s a great start! However, when drafting a business plan as part of a lateral move, you want to take it further, incorporating your knowledge of the prospective firm’s capabilities and showing how you will approach your network to expand your practice on the firm’s platform.

Law firms hiring are more cautious than in prior years, and potential lateral candidates face a more rigorous diligence process designed to avoid making bad investments in lateral candidates who don’t increase the bottom line. Your LPQ and business plan will both be thoroughly reviewed, so sell the best version of yourself. Of course, prospective lateral candidates who demonstrate a strong business case will not only accept an offer, but they will also likely receive more offers with higher compensation.

Things to keep in mind when drafting your business plan

Your business plan will ultimately be reviewed by the firm as part of its diligence process when determining if you will get an offer and at what amount. The firm will look to it for detail to explain the predictions for future business in your LPQ and understand where you and your practice fit into the firm.

Try your best to give accurate descriptions of your current work and future opportunities. This is not the time to exaggerate your relationships or to sell yourself short. You should expect that the firm will discount what you predict you will originate in your first year with the firm, but even with this in mind, you do not want to overstate that you expect that every one of the different avenues for business will all come in during your first year.

Remember, your business plan will also be a roadmap for integration. Consider whom you have spoken with during the interview process and whom you believe you may be able to cross-sell to in your network or work with on a pitch to bring in new business. Interview panels are often designed to get you to meet the people you would like to work with, so this is a great starting point and shows that you are already thinking about how you can work together.

How to write a strong business plan

A good business plan is made up of several key parts: an executive summary describing your background, qualifications and goals; an analysis of the market; a description of your business; a list of your current contacts; and a plan of action. Take these steps in developing one:

Step 1: Describe yourself and expertise

The executive summary should start the business plan and highlight your expertise and experience. Be mindful of how the prospective firm is organized and how you will fit into practice groups as well as industry groups. This should not be a copy of your Web biography but should similarly highlight your experience and success.

Step 2: Describe your current business and opportunities to expand

Law firms often think in industry groups; therefore, you want to identify the industries you serve. When describing the market for your services, explain how your expertise will be valuable to the new firm to bring in new work and service its existing clients. This is especially important if you do not have a large portable practice but should be included even if you do.

If you have a practice that you believe is portable, clearly lay out who your current clients are, their industries and the work you do for them. Share the history of work for each client and the status of active matters. Clients with long-standing relationships will be viewed as having a greater probability of portability, so highlighting this will ultimately make the prospective firm more comfortable with your projections and feed into a higher compensation offer.

Identify cross-selling opportunities at the new firm to expand your relationships and bring in new work to your partners; consider geographic reach and expertise the new firm has that your current firm does not have.

Step 3: Identify your network

Firms like to see that you are organized in your business development efforts and, if possible, have multiple touchpoints for your clients. The easiest way to lay this out is a chart: contact name, contact company, source of the relationship and status of business relationship. This is where your clients are differentiated from the GC you sit next to at your kids’ soccer games. Both are rightly on the list, but both will receive different treatment from you over the year. Building this list will also give you an opportunity to identify prospects.

If you are active in an organization that has historically been a strong source of business generation, such as a bar association, alumni association or your tennis club, include it to show your prior success gaining work from your network. If you are earlier in your career and have worked to establish yourself in these networks, include your activities and the reasons why you value this network.

Step 4: Design an action plan

Current and prospective clients should both be addressed in your action plan. For current clients, lay out how you normally maintain the relationship as well as your cross-selling plan. For prospective clients, show how you intend to continue to cultivate the relationship. If you regularly speak at or attend conferences, identify them and explain their values. Do you plan to reach out to each of these contacts individually and invite them for lunch? Are you planning a CLE event where you will invite some of these people? Lay it out and make sure that all the people on the list are contacted through at least one of the methods.

If you speak at conferences, host CLEs or write articles, use these to illustrate that you are an expert in your field and are already a strong marketer. Take this opportunity to explain why you are a subject-matter expert and will be a benefit to the firm from that perspective.

As you write your business plan, you want to make sure you are thinking through important issues and setting goals for yourself and your business. Consider the people you have met throughout the interview process and how you might be able to develop a business with them to approach your network. Remember, this document will be the starting point for your integration, so take advantage of the opportunity to get a strong start.

If done properly, you can continue to update your business plan each year going forward. Once you put together a strong plan, you will be able to identify what marketing and business prospecting is working and what time should be allocated for different tasks. Like anything else, time spent planning will save time in execution.

Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence and freedom from bias. Westlaw Today is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

Carol Morganstern

Carol Morganstern is a partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s partner practice group, working in both the San Francisco and Palo Alto offices. She places partners, counsel, high-level government attorneys and groups at firms and helps launch new offices. She can be reached at [email protected].

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