Who will carry on your legacy at your law firm?

Who will carry on your legacy at your law firm?

James R. McCarthy, MS, CPC

Law Firms: Succession Planning, Staff Continuity, Leadership Development – no matter what you call it, you better be doing it - now!!

Time to read: 2 minutes

Why? In 1980, only a quarter of the legal profession was older than 55.  Today, well over a third of lawyers are.  That means that more than a third of those practicing today will likely not be practicing by 2030.  Many of them are your firm’s leaders and key rainmakers.

In a 2014 survey of 85 managing partners, only 5% of respondents said they have a documented Succession Plan for their top five client relationship managers.

The future viability of your firm depends on how well you develop the next cohort of stellar attorneys to protect and maintain valuable client relationships when senior attorneys and partners retire.  By starting to groom and develop these new leaders while the current experienced and effective practitioners are still working, well considered transitions can help your firm meet critical, generation-specific opportunities and challenges.

Succession Planning in your law firm should have two critical goals: ensuring the continued high-quality representation of the firm’s best clients, and maintaining effective firm leadership.  Representation continuity most critically entails creating a process that replicates (with those lawyers staying at your firm) the harmonious and productive interactions developed between the exiting lawyer and the client.  Clients need to know that you put a very high value on their continued business.

Secondly, and no less important, is the need for Staff Continuity at the leadership level of your firm.  Your most senior attorneys are very likely responsible for generating the bulk of your firm’s revenues.  By doing a simple demographic analysis, you can easily pinpoint the practice areas or client relationships that are at the highest risk, should a senior lawyer leave.  Who are the lawyers closest to retirement, and how much of the firm’s revenues do they produce?  How many of the firm’s key clients are associated with them?  These are the individuals who need to have transition or Succession Plans created immediately.

One way to create a reliable Transition Plan is to develop a Knowledge Retention program at your firm.  This process helps to codify the existing knowledge and ways of doing business exhibited by your most senior and experienced attorneys.  In implementing a knowledge retention program, you might use a series of interviews and personal interactions between the senior attorney and his or her prospective successor.

These exchanges would capture both Explicit and Tacit knowledge.  Explicit Knowledge is the “know-what” hard knowledge of their clients, (e.g., who the key players are; matter management, understanding the legal issues at play).  Tacit Knowledge is experiential knowledge and wisdom – the “know-how” of client interactions, (e.g., what was the thinking behind the creation of a particular legal strategy; who the key players at the client are, what their preferred ways of interacting with the firm are).  The next step is translating that expertise into actionable information.

This transfer of critical explicit and Tacit knowledge is best done as a respectful, somewhat intimate conversation among colleagues and peers…much like having dinner for two.  The focus is on retrieving contextual understanding and experience that is not already codified.  This may include client history, specific / relational background of key decisions, as well as strategies for and with the client, which can lead to key lessons learned on the way.

Your firm's survival may very well depend upon coming to terms with succession and transition issues - and doing so right now.

Join those prudent firms that understand the critical requirement to continually refresh their leadership pipeline.  To learn more about creating your customized Succession Plan, please email jeff@wolfmotivation.com, or visit us on the web at Wolf Legal



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