Partner Interviews – How to write a business case without a big following

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  • Partner Interviews – How to write a business case without a big following

Partner Interviews – How to write a business case without a big following

By some margin, the most common reason for Partnership interviews falling through is the lack of a compelling business case from the prospective lateral hire.  Technical skills, strong credentials and personal fit are all vital but they are rarely the key determinant when a candidate fails to secure an offer.  In reality, your technical skills and credentials are probably taken as a given if you have made it as far as an interview, whilst the personal fit is (largely) a fixed element.

When asked about potential for revenue generation, senior lawyers typically refer immediately to their following (or lack of).  Whilst this is clearly a strong strand in building a business case, it is not always sufficient on its own.  Equally, the lack of a following may not rule you out of securing a Partnership offer, particularly if you are looking at entry level Partnership and/or you are in a field where followings are harder to achieve (such as litigation).

We have discussed the issue of calculating your following in more detail elsewhere (see Partnership Moves – Ten tips for calculating your portable business) so here we focus on the other areas which together form a business plan that will help you to secure an offer.

We find that although firms purport to be interested both in short-term and long-term plans, the bulk of the discussions tend to focus on your first year or two.  Long term strategy is of course vital but this is more likely to be discussed in the context of whether your ambitions match the ambitions of the firm, than it is in the context of how your practice development will be working five years from now.

Different firms present it in different ways but the question that almost always comes up is:

What do you plan on doing to generate business in the first three/six/twelve months?

If you’re unprepared and a firm asks, you may struggle to answer in a convincing fashion and that alone could be enough to cost you your chance.  Even if it isn’t asked directly, you should be aiming to get your ideas across otherwise you leave it to chance as to whether you will be asked back and given the chance to answer the question next time.

Forming the answer to the question is naturally different for each individual but there are four key areas that we will focus on:

  1. How will you capitalise on your existing contacts?
  2. How might you leverage your skills and experience to the benefit of yourself and your new firm?
  3. How will you cross-sell into the firm’s existing client base?
  4. Use past performance as an indicator of future success.

Let’s look at each in turn.

How will you capitalise on your existing contacts?

Most senior lawyers have a strong set of contacts but to leverage this you really need to delve into some detail and to some extent put your neck on the line.  “No following but a strong set of contacts” is an often said phrase but it is akin to saying that you’re a hard worker or a dynamic lawyer if it is not substantiated.  Try taking an analytical approach to your contact book, looking back over the last couple of years and selecting the strongest and then applying the following questions:

  • Who will you call to alert them to your move and introduce your new practice?
  • What type of client and level of contact are they?
  • What is their potential worth in legal spend and how often might they instruct?
  • Are you confident that you can secure a meeting to pitch to them?
  • Are they potentially relevant to prospective colleagues in your new firm?
  • How will your new platform enable you to develop these clients better?

For example:

EMEA GC of London headquartered energy trading firm with primary responsibility for selecting outside counsel.  Current client and strong personal contact with regular (typically once annually) need for litigation advice and average instructions valued in the region of £250k-£400k.  Intend to capitalise on the firm’s stronger energy commodities expertise and my personal knowledge of their business to form a compelling argument for winning instructions when they arise.  Confident that I can secure an opportunity to pitch in the first six months and also aim to cross-sell transactional commodities practice. 

You need not name anyone at this stage, you need not commit to when they will instruct or how much it will be worth, and you need not guarantee that you will win it.  However, you do need to demonstrate confidence in your abilities to make the contact, win the opportunity to pitch, and formulate a reasonable plan as for why they might switch to your new firm.  After all, if you are not prepared to back yourself, why should anyone else?

How will you capitalise on the new skills you bring to the firm?

The mileage in this point will depend on the nature of your potential lateral hire.  If you are embellishing an already strong team the potential impact will be different to if you are joining a nascent practice in the firm.  Consider the following points:

  • Your sector expertise, how it supports the firm’s current practice and how it might develop it.
  • Likewise, your geographical expertise and how that might benefit the firm.
  • Opportunities for publicising your hire to increase the market recognition of the practice.

Using the example of our Energy Litigator discussed above, it might go something like this:

Sector Expertise:

The ability to offer a dedicated energy litigation function with strong credentials will enhance relationships across the energy and natural resources practice.  Increasingly, GC’s in this sector are

looking for a one-stop-shop and are keen to instruct disputes lawyers who understand their business on a commercial level not just in relation to a specific case.  Equally, where transactional clients are instructing different firms for their contentious work, that firm will inevitably be pitching to win non-contentious matters.  By keeping all matters within the firm we benefit from increased disputes revenue whilst protecting existing transactional revenues.

Geographical Expertise:

The nature of the global energy and resources market at present, leads to many disputes revolving around Africa.  Market recognition is essential to a viable Africa practice and using the energy litigation business as a springboard, the firm can capitalise on a presence in this increasingly vital region, to develop a fully functioning cross-practice Africa group.


I am confident that my appointment would generate positive press in certain key publications and could be presented as an exciting hire for the firm.  Further, I have experience of speaking at conferences worldwide and contributing to numerous industry and sector specific publications.  I would propose that the firm develop that as part of a marketing strategy that positions the firm as a one-stop-shop global expert in the field.  The following conferences/publications might be targeted in the first instance…

Of course, these points could all be explored in some detail and developed beyond the one paragraph examples given above and would in any case need adapting to each individual.

Nonetheless, applying this thought process serves to support your application in two ways (1) it offers substantive and relevant points that contribute to the business case, and (2) it demonstrates your ability to think clearly and commercially about opportunities for revenue generation, the importance of which should not be underestimated.

How will you cross-sell into the firm’s existing client base?

The level of detail you can apply to this will be far greater when addressing a formal business plan later on in the process (by which time you should have a good sense of who their clients are and which Partners are relevant) but even early on it is possible to make some coherent points.

  • Focus on your ability to form strong internal relationships with colleagues, ideally referencing past examples and setting out plans of how you would go about this. The ability to communicate with and gain trust of relationship Partners is a vital step in any successful cross-selling strategy.
  • Research their existing Partners online (the lawyer, firm website and legal directories) to seek out people who you feel may have practice areas that have a synergy with yours.
  • Likewise seek out existing Partners who you feel you can potentially cross-sell into your contacts (as discussed above) – it is important to talk of cross-selling as a two way street.
  • It is essential that you strike a balance so a firm knows that you will be pro-active but doesn’t fear that you will be pushy to the extent of upsetting existing Partners.

For example:

Within the first three months I would endeavour to introduce myself both formally and informally to all key Partners where there is potential to cross-sell.  Particular focus would be on the energy and resources team and on the mainstream litigation team but specific details of who can be established in due course.  I would propose conducting an internal seminar on my practice area (to which I would invite relevant Partners as well as marketing and BD staff) the aim of which would be to demonstrate what I can potentially offer to their clients and how this might also benefit their own personal client relationships.  I recognise that Partners in any firm can be protective of hard-won clients and my aim would be to develop a strong bond of trust both in (a) my credentials to deliver for their clients, and (b) that my approach would be harmonious with their own.  Other efforts might include publishing a series of reports on disputes matters for circulation to existing clients and inviting existing clients and relationship partners to internal and external client seminars. 

Use past-performance as an indicator of future success.

Rarely is this enough in its own right but referencing past success is a strong supplement to the points formed above.  Furthermore, demonstrating a flair for/interest in business development is vital to the overall impression created.

  • Think of previous client ‘wins’ whether that be a new instruction or whether it be extracting more from a relationship that was passed on to you.  Whether or not this client will need to instruct you again is not the point, the point is that you have done it once so you can do it again.
  • Think of previous cross-selling successes (see above).
  • Outline your previous involvement in marketing, business development, networking etc.
  • Think of occasions where you have been actively involved in the pitch process, even if not leading it.
  • Are your hours relevant?  If they are wondering why you don’t have more client relationships but you have been billing 2400 hours annually, that may be the answer.

Remember, demonstrating that you are excited not daunted by the challenge of building your practice is essential and talking enthusiastically about previous successes and involvement will help to establish the impression that you are someone who will thrive on this.

We hope that you find these pointers useful.  They are of course generalist in nature and lacking in detail but they are intended to give you some ideas about structure and approach.  Applying your thinking in the above fashion may not always be enough to get you past the financial gatekeepers of a firm, but they certainly tip the odds in your favour.  We often find that having gone through this thought process, a lawyer realises that their potential business case is far stronger than they might have thought which in turn tends to increase confidence and hence the chances of success.

For a more detailed appraisal of your own practice and how to approach this subject (or if you have any tips of your own), please contact Jason Horobin, Head of International at Origin Legal on +44 (0)20 7096 1681 or by email at [email protected]

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Jason Horobin
Picture of Jason Horobin
Jason Horobin

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