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Judgement day

Recruiting a new partner to the practice requires rigorous checks into their performance and personality

Practices looking to improve what they can offer in terms of design, to grow their work in specific sectors, or to increase their critical mass in particular locations are inevitably looking to recruit new talent. Industry trends show a significant increase in practices recruiting at partner level.

This trend is accentuated by firms that are scouring talent pools for partners with established client lists.

However, in an eagerness to recruit, firms should not overlook the need to run checks on partners before bringing them on board.

A heightened awareness of risk management among practices means that the need for performing 'due diligence' on potential recruits is acknowledged much more now than in the past. However, firms are still tempted to cut corners and neglect to scrutinise fully the financial position, history, recent performance and growth potential of partners prior to recruiting.

The process can be very delicate.

Interrogating a potential recruit may mean posing awkward questions and requesting sensitive information.

While this must be handled with discretion, there is no scope for shortcuts - the wrong partner can be at best expensive and a drain on morale and, at worst, disastrous. So what are the vital checks that should be run on a potential new partner?

Paper credibility It is all too easy to be influenced by a dazzling CV. Ruthless recruitment agencies would not be earning fees, typically 25-30 per cent of the firstyear profit share, if the CV was not important. But even though credentials on paper can be very flattering, they can also be misleading. A glowing report should not be taken as read; it is important to delve further, which includes following up all references meticulously. These procedures may be carried out inhouse, but it is worth considering a specialist firm that verifies CVs.

To ensure that a new recruit has the necessary skills and qualities, he or she should be introduced to a wide range of people from the firm. This might include the managing partner, a departmental and/or national representative, as well as colleagues with whom the new appointee will be working on a daily basis.

Do not be afraid of departing from the standard, formal checks, but investigate all the possible routes to get the complete picture. Where the candidate is leaving his or her former firm amicably, you may be able to engage with the company to build a broader picture of the candidate's strengths and weaknesses. In addition, your own people may have contacts there, and may be able to engage in informal discussions.

Some practices put the onus on candidates to confirm their integrity. This could, for example, involve a standard application form that is included as part of the recruitment procedure. This requires the partner to confirm in writing that he or she has no disciplinary records and should also verify their personal financial situation. Such declarations should be followed up, where possible. Recruiters might also look to obtain a banker's reference and confirm qualifications with the RIBA or similar relevant professional body.

Health checks Assessing a candidate's health is as important as running checks on their finances - entering into a partnership can be a lifetime commitment, and a full medical is essential.

Investigating the client base is also a vital procedure, yet this is often overlooked. Given that inheriting clients is a key driver in the recruitment process, surprisingly few practices actually run checks on the clients.

A candidate may boast an array of attractive clients, but it is important to determine that they are of desirable calibre and fit with the firm's criteria for target clients. Confirm, also, whether there are any restrictions on candidates bringing their clients with them. There may be a time lag, perhaps a year or so, before they can bring clients to a new firm.

Without doubt, instinct is no substitute for due diligence, but gut reaction is a very helpful gauge, particularly concerning human resources.

A partner may boast of having all the necessary skills, pass all the financial checks, have a glowing client base and be a picture of health - but instinct may still suggest something is amiss.

There are no fixed criteria to spot the partner who, despite passing all the checks with flying colours, will underperform, fail to deliver or expose a practice to unnecessary risk.

However, certain characteristics, particularly 'extreme personalities' should be assessed carefully. For example, candidates who are introverted or seem particularly stressed may be concealing bad news or failure. Be wary also of candidates with excessively outgoing personalities, those who are 'larger than life', or have an air of self-importance. Potential employers can sometimes be reluctant to challenge people who are particularly extroverted, but an extravagant exterior often disguises flaws on the interior, and all suspicions, regardless of how mild, should be addressed.

Psychometric testing, professionally administered and interpreted, can be invaluable and is routinely used in partner recruitment by many firms.

Entering into a partnership is a long-term venture, and it is vital to resolve any concerns in the early stages. These checks may be timeconsuming and there will be costs involved, but people make or break a practice. Firms should be willing to invest accordingly.

Contact George Bull and David Blacher of the Professional Practices Group at Baker Tilly on 020 7413 5100 or email pg@bakertilly. co. uk

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