Game Theory and Lateral Recruiting: Tip #1
September 27th, 2013 | Author: Scott Love

Beating the Lateral Game: Process

I’ll never forget the first time I was kicked out of a casino.

About eight years ago I was a professional card-counting blackjack player.  Two alumni of the legendary MIT blackjack team mentored me, so for a year and a half I had a ‘side business’ of exploiting casinos through the legal means of gaining an advantage over them by counting cards.

Getting busted by a casino for counting cards meant that, once they discovered me counting, they would either ban me from the tables or they would assign a ‘pit boss’ to track my moves and tell the dealer to reshuffle anytime I made a big bet.  It rendered my advantage back to a negative percentage, which meant I was gambling with negative expectation just like everyone else.  It’s pointless to gamble unless you can control the circumstances and give yourself a positive edge over the competition.

The game of blackjack has a ‘memory’ and there is an inherent defect in the game that we can turn to our advantage if we learn how to bet in proportion to our advantage, and we can predict the future by paying attention to the cards that have already been dealt.  The first time I was busted was at the Mirage in Vegas.  The pit boss tapped me firmly on the shoulder and told me I had to refrain from blackjack for the rest of the evening but I could play as much craps and roulette as I wanted.  “But that would be gambling,” I quipped.  “Why would I want to play at a disadvantage?” He didn’t appreciate my humor so I left and came back six hours later during the next shift.

During this time I became adept at making decisions based on probabilities, and learned the art and science of ‘game theory.’

I use ‘game theory’ in helping my law firm clients gain a competitive edge in the game of lateral hiring.  Lateral hiring is a zero sum game which means that there are not enough rainmakers with big books of business to go around, and those firms not growing their headcount through lateral hiring will end up in a downward trajectory and will lose out to law firms which are adept at this skill.

Tip #1:  PROCESS: Flow out your process using a visual diagram.

Recruiting isn’t rocket science and is actually a simple concept: Offer a compelling opportunity to those candidates who can benefit from your offering.  That about sums it up.  But the execution of the strategy is where you find most problems.  Most law firms have an incomplete process, or in some cases utilize a shoot from the hip approach in how they recruit, onboard, and integrate laterals.

During my Navy days after my sea tour, I was a Total Quality Leadership instructor and taught W. Edwards Deming’s concepts of continuous improvement. At that time I learned statistical process control, which is the use of charts and graphs to measure variables so that managers make effective decisions. Deming was an American management consultant who pioneered the quality movement in the 1950’s and stimulated a major economic impact in the Japanese economy by showing the Japanese how to manage their manufacturing output in their recovery from the Second World War.  In the 1980’s, his revolutionary ideas came to America, and the rest is history.

This personal early career experience shaped the way I viewed the world. If anything can be measured, it can be improved.

In looking at how law firms recruit and integrate prospective lateral candidates, I find that there is a need for a clearly defined process that is communicated to those involved internally in partner hiring.  To help your firm improve, I am offering a free process flow chart tool to help you improve your effectiveness in recruiting and placing laterals.  You can download this pdf tool here: LATERAL HIRING PROCESSIf you would like a Microsoft Word version of the tool which you can modify as your own template, please email me at and I will forward that to you.

This tool can be a talking point during management meetings among hiring partners, practice group leaders, managing partners, and recruiting departments.  I would recommend using it as a baseline in shaping your internal protocols. By using the tools of measuring process, we can make improvements.  My hope and intention is that that this flow chart helps your firm begin discussions in smoothing out the rough spots in your internal recruiting process and gain a competitive edge in the game of lateral recruiting.

Copyright © 2013 Scott Love

Scott Love grows law firms and accelerates attorney careers by facilitating law firm mergers and conducting partner-level recruiting for law firms.  He has been a career ‘headhunter’ since 1995 and is a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy.  Scott lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, two children, and a toothless rescue dog named Smoky.  He can be reached at 202-737-5555.


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