Chasing laterals? Beware the territorial animal

Every once in a while, the anthropologist in me resurfaces, as it did in the May 2011 Last Word, The Territorial Animal. And it makes for good copy. Because under all them swanky business suits, lawyers–and entrepreneurs–are just another species of primate.

Unedited excerpt (full text follows):

The territorial animal wants to be the top. Nothing more, nothing less—that’s why they come over to your shop. You’re giving them a chance to be king or queen – and they’re not gonna help you unseat them. This means – are you ready to hear the shocking truth? — they will not help you build. Not in the way you want them to. Oh, sure, they’ll bring on-board associates. Partners in other, non-infringing practice areas. A junior partner with solid—but probably not stellar—potential. But if you think you can count on them to bring other heavyweights and silverbacks, marquee names who have even better client relationships, connections, skills and abilities… ha.

You’re dreaming. The territorial animal caps you at – well, at him (or her, it’s not a boys-only thing). He’s as good as it’s going to get; he’s going to ensure you don’t bring on-board anyone better.  

Bornean Orangutan

LAST WORD: Beware the Territorial Animal

by Marzena Czarnecka

Before I even start, let’s make one thing crystal clear. I like recruiters and headhunters. Some of my best friends are recruiters. Recruiters are… well, not the salt of the earth, perhaps, but by and by, they’re much more decent, more hard-working and less sly and less deceitful people than most managing partners – especially those who’ve just had a key department or two raided by a determined recruiter – would have you think.

So I want to make sure you know I’m not engaging in any passive-aggressive, thinly veiled stabs at this or that recruiter here (I’m perfectly unpassively aggressive about any jabs I need to send in that direction. Ask a recruiter next time you sit across from one—you’re not planning to? I don’t believe you). But I do want to send a little Public Service Announcement to expansion-minded law firms. We’ve got a few exciting greenfields happening across the country these days—both ground-up offices and more established satellites and even head quarters building up some key (occasionally “frontier”) practice areas—and as “Grow, grow!” excitement rises, one is liable to make a mistake or two on new hires.

None is more lethal—or common—than hiring a territorial animal.

You probably have a handful of these creatures in your shop already. Don’t panic: they’re common, tameable, and in the right environment, they’ll perform adequately—definitely profitably. Indeed, they have many laudable, positive—downright attractive—qualities. They’re strong leaders and solid financial performers, whose charisma makes them popular with their peers, juniors and staff, and makes for ties that bind to clients. If they decide to make a move, they’ll often bring a team—and their book of business—with them.

Yo, you—managing partner of Greenfield 2, I’m talking to you—stop drooling. I am not describing your top “to be poached at any price” candidates. I’m describing your worst nightmare.

See, this is how they get you. They look so damn good. Absolutely delicious. They’re usually in the number two or three spot at their current firm—and you think if you put them in a situation where they’re the absolute top of the food chain, they’ll fly, and then some. They’re gonna work for you, build for you – you can see them pulling all your lateral hires together into a solid office culture, working their magic with the clients, helping you recruit and build out the office…

They’re not gonna. I’m sorry. The recruiters won’t tell you this, for the most part, not because they want to deceive you, but because they don’t see it. It’s really hard to identify a territorial animal until you put it in a situation where it has substantial say in who it admits to the pack. See, the defining characteristic of the territorial animal, and the one that cripples your greenfield, is its low-to-zero tolerance of competition.

The territorial animal wants to be the top. Nothing more, nothing less—that’s why they come over to your shop. You’re giving them a chance to be king or queen – and they’re not gonna help you unseat them. This means – are you ready to hear the shocking truth? — they will not help you build. Not in the way you want them to. Oh, sure, they’ll bring on-board associates. Partners in other, non-infringing practice areas. A junior partner with solid—but probably not stellar—potential. But if you think you can count on them to bring other heavyweights and silverbacks, marquee names who have even better client relationships, connections, skills and abilities… ha.

You’re dreaming. The territorial animal caps you at – well, at him (or her, it’s not a boys-only thing). He’s as good as it’s going to get; he’s going to ensure you don’t bring on-board anyone better.

Now, don’t despair. I see the glint of recognition in your eyes—suddenly, you’re looking at last week’s “wow” hire through a different lens. Wishing you’d read this PSA before you inked the deal. But, if you’ve chosen a really top territorial animal, you’re in pretty good shape—there aren’t that many potential hires better than him anyway. You’re really only in trouble if you’ve plonked down for a mediocre territorial animal.

So… can you tell which kind you’ve ended up with?

Marzena Czarnecka is a territorial Calgary-based writer.

Thomson Reuters article record

What did you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s