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Expanding firm, candidate need good corporate fit: Dormer

Before committing to bringing in a new partner, Toronto legal management consultant Mark Dormer says it's best to have a trial run to ensure the prospective recruit is a good corporate fit.

Dormer, owner and president of Cosgrove Associates Inc., says a short-term period of time is ideal "to make sure the candidate is a good fit for both parties."

He tells a short-term contract or an understanding should be established before entering a full agreement "because if it doesn't work out you want to find out quickly and you don't want too much to unravel."

Dormer says there are two ways to expand a partnership: bring new talent to the firm or elevate an associate to a partner. But in both cases, he urges firms to create a detailed contract and not rely on a handshake.

"I think the most important thing is how the new person will mesh with the culture of the firm, financially as well," he says. "Is he or she bringing things to the table that may be missing from the firm, like an area of law or clients that the firm has been after for a while?

"And does the firm offer something to the new person coming in?" Dormer asks. "The person coming in should provide good synergies for the firm."

He says non-financial considerations are also crucial.

"It's important that the candidate shares the corporate outlook and commitment, and the rest of the partners want to be in business with the person, theoretically for the rest of their careers," Dormer says.

The new hire should also possess the professional skills to be able to grow over time and work collaboratively within the firm to achieve common goals.

"Part of that could be accomplished by the compensation package set out for rewarding activities and skills that the firm wants to foster," Dormer says.

He says pay structures are unique to each firm and compensation packages could involve complicated processes, depending on referrals and the sharing of work.

"It should develop into something that is fair and can evolve into whatever compensation system a true partner would have, so that would allow the lawyer coming in to understand on a practical level what it financially means to be a partner," Dormer says.

He says the greatest asset a potential partner can bring to the firm is their goodwill and client base.

Lawyers moving up the ladder can also be added to the partnership, including in a non-equity capacity.

"It used to be traditional that one of the criteria was the length of time a person had at the firm," Dormer says. "I don't think that's the case anymore. I think there are more factors that should be taken into account to bring an associate into the partnership.

"Of course, economic considerations is a key one: is that associate performing well, delegating work, and bringing in additional work to generate business for the firm," he says.

But along with what a new partner can offer a firm, they should also understand their responsibilities in accepting liability.

"There's a liability side to this, be it a bank loan, lease commitment or many employees," Dormer says. "With most firms, liability is based on the percentage of ownership."

He suggests firms should have a clear understanding of the persons entering the practice and "everything needs to be written down in a contract that covers all the issues.

"Some firms do it on a handshake but it's always best to have something in writing," Dormer says.

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