Red Flag Flying: How Risky is Lateral Associate Hiring in 2024?

As we navigate through the first half of 2024, law firms are experiencing a remarkable surge in lateral associate hiring with a shocking 70 percent year-over-year increase in the first quarter alone. This data is somewhat surprising, as firms had begun to rebalance associate headcounts over the past several quarters after the significant post-pandemic expansion of 2021 and 2022. The impressive growth signals an uptick in demand for associate legal talent in response to a quickly evolving market for specific legal services.

Despite the high volume of associate hiring, many law firms still overlook the importance of thorough due diligence for these candidates. Though often perceived as lower risk due to smaller salaries and a lack of portable books of business, associates can still engage in behavior that exposes the firm to significant financial, legal, and reputational damage.

In fact, of lateral associate moves tracked by Decipher Investigative Intelligence, nearly two-thirds of candidates (59 percent) had at least one red flag surface during pre-hire due diligence, and nearly 1 in 5 candidates (20 percent) had a major red flag surface.

Average number of red flags per associate in 2024

Candidates with major red flags—7.9
Candidates with red flags—3.75
All candidates—2.14

The most common red flag areas for associates include:

  • Resume/Career History Irregularity/Disclosure (76%)
  • Traffic/Civil Filing Not Disclosed (9%)
  • Financial Irregularity/Not Disclosed (9%)
  • Traffic/Civil Filing Not Disclosed (9%)
  • Social Media Content (9%)

Associate red flag rates by practice area

What disciplines are law firms seeing lateral candidates bring more cause for concern? Of associates with at least one red flag, three practice areas saw higher per candidate red flag averages:

Intellectual Property—4.5

What This Means for You

These statistics underscore the critical need for law firms to enforce a comprehensive, consistent, and rigorous screening process even for lateral associate candidates. At a minimum, firms should require candidates to complete (in full) a detailed lateral associate questionnaire.

The LAQ is a vital step to uncover potential issues early in the recruitment and hiring process, helping to prevent future issues that could cause significant legal, financial or reputational harm. Get details on what information to capture by downloading Decipher’s sample LAQ, available here.

To thoroughly protect your firm from lateral hiring risk, consider an enhanced due diligence approach with Decipher’s new associate version of our Dossier product. Collating information from more than 50 public, private and proprietary databases, Dossier uncovers the most important objective candidate intelligence, and is quickly related to your firm in a synthesized and easily digestible report.

The result? Your firm can make high-stakes hiring decisions with confidence knowing potential issues have been properly – and proactively – addressed.

Is your firm ready to reduce lateral associate hiring risks? Download our LAQ template or contact us today.

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