Beyond Red Flags: Deploying Positive Intel from Due Diligence

We admit it: Sometimes it’s tempting to lead with the negative information from pre-hire investigations. Bullying behavior, inflammatory social media posts, fabricated client relationships – these (very real) examples raise eyebrows, and in turn raise awareness of the importance of due diligence.

It is critical to uncover any bad surprises with potential hires, to be sure. But there’s another side to due diligence that is far too often overlooked: In many instances, investigations uncover positive information about the candidate – information that can be deployed by the firm to strengthen recruiting, onboarding, integration and marketing efforts.

Indeed, in Q1 2023, 25 percent of candidates had major red flags. From the risk management perspective, a 25 percent red-flag rate is cause for concern. But at the same time, 75 percent – a vast majority – of candidates do not present problems. How does due diligence factor for these “green flag” individuals?

What is a Green Flag Candidate?

Decipher Investigative Intelligence has researched thousands of lawyers since 2015. Using the data collected from those investigations, we can provide unique and valuable insight on pools of target candidates.

To identify candidates with profiles consistent with historically successful hires, we have categorized candidates into two groups:

Green Flag Candidates

Lawyers whose investigation uncovered no (or minimal) red flags through human intelligence and objective intelligence.

Red Flag Candidates

Lawyers whose investigation uncovered some issue, including questionable legal skills, personality concerns (#MeToo, bullying), background irregularities and objectionable social or traditional media content.

Using aggregate data from the green flag candidate pool, we can model attributes of successful candidates specific to a given practice area and location, then benchmark target candidates against this exemplar.

What Makes Green Flag Candidates Special?

Green flag candidates display more steady career paths and stronger market recognition:

Attribute Green Flag Candidates Red Flag Candidates
Number of previous employers (average) 2 4.3
Tenure at current firm/employer 19 9.3
Market recognition rate 55% Less than 20%

Meanwhile, they are more active in business development and marketing:

  • Through human intelligence, sources describe them as business developers and “owning” client relationships.
  • 97 percent of green flag candidates leverage LinkedIn for career enhancement and networking, compared with 76 percent of red flag candidates.
  • Green flag candidates have been featured or quoted in at least four media articles.
  • Green flag candidates average more than three thought leadership pieces as an author, panelist or speaker.

Of special note to potential employers: Green flag candidates are considered to be strong cultural leaders, eliciting such feedback from former colleagues as:

  • “He treated everyone with respect…He is someone you want to work for.”
  • “She’s an absolute dream to work with. She’s just wonderful.”
  • “Even when dealing with hostile clients, she was nice, gracious, patient, calm and cool with the associates.”

What This Means For Your Firm

Certainly, the risk presented by red flag candidates is very real –  and no firm wants to find out that their newest partner represents neo-Nazis. (Not a hypothetical!)

But Decipher research shows that many lateral candidates are in fact ideal hires – and they share a number of characteristics that can be deployed before, during and after the recruitment process.

For example, green flag candidates practice at fewer firms, and average longer stints at their current firms. These hires are looking for longer-term stability and structural support. More than one-third of departing laterals cite “lack of support to build the practice” as their reason for leaving their current firms; “practice area support” is the No. 1 selection factor for their new firms. Win these candidates over early by linking them to complementary practitioners, associates and professional staff.

Moreover, green flag candidates are often natural networkers, with higher use of platforms like LinkedIn and more thought leadership activity. Help them grow their network within the new firm by seeking connections from their education, civic engagement and more. (One Decipher-vetted candidate was a champion rugby player; can you introduce the other rugby-playing lawyers?) 

As a result of their networking and thought leadership, green flag candidates have a market recognition rate more than 30 percent higher than their red flag counterparts. Smart law firms use this to mutual advantage by integrating their laterals into marketing and business development efforts (far beyond the announcement press release). 

Strategize with laterals by determining their goals while communicating your understanding of their previous actions. Will they continue their current thought leadership activities, or are they looking for new opportunities? Are there outreach events that they participate in that would be beneficial to the firm, and how do those dovetail into existing firm activity? Is there an option to pivot or create something new?

Smart law firms see due diligence not as a check-the-box exercise or a sniff test, but as an investment into intelligence that will drive smarter decisions – at the hiring stage and far beyond it. For your best candidates, due diligence will take you beyond the “should we” question and into far more lucrative brainstorms.

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