Today, succession planning for law firms is more than finding the charismatic leader who is liked by most. Any new leader (actually, any leader whether new or not) must have the vision to compete in the age of New Law.
Jordan Furlong’s An Incomplete Inventory of New Law is an excellent summary of new players competing in the legal space. In this era of New Law, not only is it imperative to know about these non-traditional competitors, but a visionary leader also must think about the future of New Law. Furlong’s list is as much a clarion call about the upheaval in the market place as it is a list of competitors. Disruption will continue. Any law firm leader today must understand New Law, its implications and the prospect for further disruption. A firm’s next leader should have this understanding even more so.
Easier said than done. How do you pick your next law firm leader that has that attribute? And what do you do if that kind of visionary leadership isn’t obvious upon canvassing the potential successors?
Expand the Search Criteria. Past criteria in succession planning typically sought out the charismatic leader having good judgment, the respect of the greatest number of persons and willing to serve. These criteria typically limited the candidate pool to a small group of people that operated within the traditional law firm framework. Valuable criteria no doubt, but candidates that have an everyday familiarity with the latest in technology, client service trends and marketing techniques (including Social Media) should be added to the pool and carefully considered.
Make a Concerted Effort to Study New Law. Before facing the date a successor needs to be selected, make it a firm initiative to learn all that can be learned about the mindset that stimulates New Law’s explosion. Appoint thoughtful and respected partners to become the firm’s experts on New Law. Send them to conferences or just make them study. And make them report on market trends, their findings, and concerns. Get ahead of the curve.
Observe Best Practices. Some law firms, even those steeped in history, are looking at New Law and responding. Learn from these firms and the “vision” they display. It will help your firm now and aid any future successor.
Consider Outside Successor Leadership. If your firm’s roster is weak on the vision thing, consider going outside to find your future leadership. This is best executed prior to the need for the elevation of a new leader. If forward thinking can be added to the firm and observed for a few years, you might find a leader with the vision to lead you into the future.
Educate the Rank and File Now. A leader with vision that is too far ahead of his “followers” won’t succeed. Lawyers are notoriously conservative and independent. For that reason, educating them now on New Law can give your new leader the support he or she will need.
Nothing can be more important than picking the next leader of your law firm. Doing it the old way, however, where popularity and past performance as a great lawyer rule the day, is unwise. In this time of disruption for law firms, what would you do to select your firm’s future leader?