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January 11, 2011 2:14 PM

New Venture to Focus on Partner Placements

Posted by Drew Combs

In a combination that brings together a member of the legal recruiting world's old guard with some of the profession's young Turks, Frank Kimball and the principals at Lateral Link Group LLC have announced the establishment of Kimball Partner Group.

The newly formed venture, which debuts Tuesday, will focus on partner placements. It marks the first comprehensive foray into that segment of the market for Lateral Link, a recruiting firm founded in 2006 and best known for associate level and in-house placements.

"Some of the candidates in our pipeline are maturing, and we see an opportunity to help them as they move into partnership ranks," says Michael Allen, a principal at Lateral Link who has run the company since 2007 with T.J. Duane, a schoolmate from Harvard Law School. Allen, 31, adds that a partner placement practice also provides an opportunity for the company to strengthen its relationships with dozens of current law firm clients. The company has worked on placements for several Am Law 200 firms including Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Cooley, and Proskauer Rose.

With a career as a lawyer and legal industry recruiter that spans 33 years, Kimball has an equally long list of law firm client relationships. Prior to becoming a legal recruiter in 1992, Kimball was the hiring partner at McDermott Will & Emery. Under the banner of Kimball Professional Management, the Chicago-based recruiter has placed partners and associates at law firms as well as advised law firm leaders on various issues, including lateral integration, attorney compensation, and entry-level hiring. Kimball, 57, also is routinely hired by law schools, including Duke and the University of Michigan, to make presentations to students about legal industry hiring trends.

Kimball was delivering just such a talk to Lateral Link recruiters at the company's November 2010 retreat in Las Vegas when the idea of forming a joint venture to target the lateral partner market first came up.

"We sat down and sketched out a plan to do business together," Kimball says. "It came together fairly quickly." Kimball adds that he was attracted to the prospect of going into business with Lateral Link because, "they have a good sense for the business and are way ahead of any other headhunting firm in terms of technology."

Lateral Link, with 17 recruiters based in most major legal markets in the U.S. and in Shanghai, provides job seekers access to a database of available jobs and alerts about jobs as they become available. The company has made some waves in the legal recruiting industry by providing job seekers with placement bonuses of as much as $10,000. In a 2008 article about the company posted here, Duane dismissed criticism from other recruiters about the payments, noting that the practice had never come up as an issue of concern for the company's law firm clients.

Alan Miles, a Santa Monica-based legal recruiter who is not involved in the venture, says that the partner placement side of the business is far more nuanced and relationship driven than the associate placement side. He predicts that the venture's success will be based on the ability of Lateral Link's leaders (he describes them as "smart guys") to adapt to that difference.

In combining with Kimball, Allen and Duane seem to be admitting that success in this area won't be about pushing the industry in a new direction but learning current practices and norms. "[Kimball] has the experience, knowledge, credibility, and relationships," Allen says, "but most importantly, he has the willingness to teach and lead us."

Kimball Partner Group has ten recruiters; some of them double as recruiters for Lateral Link. Kimball Partner Group and Lateral Link will operate as separate companies. Allen says the fist order of business for the newly formed company will be to boost its recruiting ranks with new hires.

Although there have been signs of recovery for legal recruiting, like much of the legal industry and the economy as a whole, the placement business has been hard hit by the downturn. As law firms looked for ways to thin their associate-heavy ranks, those recruiters focused on associate placement became especially superfluous.

In 2009, Lateral Link experienced its worst year, but in that period the number of partners at Am Law 200 firms making lateral moves actually rose nearly 11 percent, according to The American Lawyer's 2010 Lateral Report (the 2011 Lateral Report will be published in the February issue of the magazine and will go live at AmericanLawyer.com on February 1).

Allen says Lateral Link was able to weather the downturn by growing the company's in-house placement practice. That part of the business rose from 33 to 50 percent of placements. Now the company hopes a partner practice will further buttress it from future downturns.

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