Law Firm Succession Planning

In human resources we talk a lot about change in the workplace and what it takes to drive it forward successfully and positively. But what about reacting to it?

Flickr / R M Collins

Flickr / R M Collins

When seasoned staff and leaders begin to transition out of their steadfast, or even rainmaking roles, from a law firm and into retirement, it can make a world of difference having a plan in place for coping purposes.

According to Alan R. Olson in his publication Law Firm Succession Planning: Do One Simple Thing, “despite the generally high recognition of the need for succession planning, many law firms have been reluctant, or lax, in developing adequate succession plans.”

Here are some of the excuses he hears from law firms:

  • Inertia or aversion to planning; “Historically, things have worked out over time; we’ve never had to plan this before…”
  • Concern over lawyer retention; “We have seniors who are highly productive, at the top of their profession, and they are not receptive to discussing phase downs…”
  • Concern over client retention; “…if we broach the topic of transition, we are by definition, raising the prospect of change and potential instability.”
  • Lack of viable successor(s); “Our next-in-line, or our next generation, might not have high-level expertise, client and industry knowledge, or the requisite ‘fire in the belly’…”
  • Over-reliance on compensation systems; “Our compensation system provides for decreasing compensation as individuals reduce production—therefore our transitions are covered automatically.”

What is the “one simple thing” he suggests you do immediately? Conduct a demographic analysis of the ages of your lawyers.

Olson’s simple demonstration of just how insightful a quick demographic analysis can be should resonate even with the most “lax” law firms about succession planning. In today’s increasingly competitive legal industry, it never hurts to be a step or two ahead.

Helene Wiswall
Helene Wiswall
Organizational Development Consultant at ModernThink