If You Love Something, Set it Free: The Importance of Succession Planning for Law Firms

Succession Planning at Law Firms

Depending on which report you read, anywhere from 50-75% of law firms have no formal succession planning process, leaving them unprepared for the imminent retirement of partners and key leaders. While this is not a problem that’s unique to law firms—it’s human nature to have difficulty relinquishing control of something you’ve spent much of your adult life building—it is one that senior lawyers need to start taking seriously in order to ensure that their firms, and their legacies, endure long after they retire.

Don’t Let Work and Money Get in the Way of Succession Planning.
Many lawyers and their support professionals simply don’t make the time to develop a formal succession plan. After all, time spent identifying and grooming the firm’s future leaders doesn’t necessarily fall under “billable hours,” so senior members of the firm and their potential successors spend most of their time focused on urgent, transactional tasks that yield foreseeable gains.

In addition, there is the matter of a senior attorney having to give up income to younger replacements as they slowly start to take over client accounts. According to Altman Weil, a legal consulting firm, 73% of senior partners don’t want to forfeit compensation by transferring client work.

Meet the Needs of Both Current and Future Leaders.
Firms that can strike a balance between transactional immediacy and building a succession pipeline are the ones who will create mutually beneficial situations for senior professionals and new associates, and be better positioned for long-term success. One approach is to develop a succession planning committee that meets a few times a year to identify successors, ensure they are being properly mentored and retained, and address any potential concerns from both the outgoing and incoming leaders.

Not Sure if Your Firm is Prepared? Answer These Questions.

  • Will a big client switch to a rival if a senior attorney—or even paralegal or other employee with whom they’ve grown close—retires?
  • What will happen if your top rival hires away your best senior or up-and-coming talent?
  • What will happen to your law firm or legal department when you’re no longer running it?

Building a successful law firm takes years and years of dedication, sacrifice and incredibly hard work. And, although it’s understandable that today’s senior lawyers find it difficult to simply hand over the keys to a new generation, the succession planning process is essential to ensuring that their labor of love endures long past their retirements. The leaders who can look within their firms—and within themselves—to do the right thing and identify the right successors are those who will achieve much more than immediate success.

When creating a succession plan, who do I include?

When it comes to succession planning, there is a very specific type of employee who would make a perfect candidate to take over when you eventually retire. Here are some qualities that employee will possess:

  • Desire to grow in the organization: Let’s face it – if you pinpoint an employee as a future leader in your organization, make sure they see themselves on the same track. Seek out key employees who are eager to take on a leadership role, and then provide them the training they need to ensure a bright future in your company. 
  • Skill set that aligns with business goals: Identify the critical skills needed to grow your firm, and take into account the type of associate your clients have a need for. Then, select future leaders with skills that will ensure your team’s success in the long term. 
  • Soft skills: In addition to reviewing a possible future leader’s experience, growth plan and skill set, another crucial aspect of identifying the future leaders of your organization are their soft skills. How do they handle a difficult client or maintain a positive professional relationship with a team member with a very different point of view? Assess these skills to ensure they will be a good log-term fit for your organization. 

For more information on developing an effective succession planning program, download your free copy of our white paper, “Succession Planning: Securing the Future of Your Legal Organization.”

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