Succession planning isn’t for everyone. If your law firm doesn’t have interest in long-term, multi-generational, viability (never mind the whole idea of legacy, which seems increasingly out of vogue) then this post isn’t really for you.
It should be acknowledged that a firm doesn’t have to transition from one generation to the next if its owners/partners have no desire to see the partnership live on. In fact, 70% of all law firms don’t make it beyond the first generation.
As a matter of record the profession does not have a great track record when it comes to planning for the future generally — much less, a well thought out roadmap for dealing with critical issues or navigating transitional challenges. Surveys consistently indicate that less than 10% of law firms have anything that approximates a documented succession plan in place.
The only viable conclusion is that succession simply isn’t very important to us.
Too harsh? Think about it. Virtually everyone reading this post will readily agree that in life we rarely accomplish anything we did not set out to accomplish.
Transitioning a law firm from one generation to the next is no exception.
It is arguable that there was a time in the legal profession when a reputation for excellence, or long-standing institutional clients, or even the fabric of a partnership was enough to somehow ensure, or at least facilitate succession. But I would suggest that day is gone. Clients drive a different conversation. The marketplace is definitively different. And law firms face transitional challenges on what can seem like an almost daily basis — not the least of which is that the young lawyers in your firm have their own set of goals and aspirations.
(In fact, the young lawyers in your firm are already talking about your firm’s succession plan…and evaluating career their options based on what they see.)
If you’re really serious about building a firm that moves from the founders to successive generations, it may be time for you to appropriately address how you hope to make that happen.
Planning for transition isn’t easy… But most lawyers I know love to tackle difficult problems. Deciding it is an issue that warrants the focus the most difficult part of the challenge.
Once you’ve decided to focus, an effective plan will tackle some admittedly significant questions. Among them, compensation, client control (or more accurately, relationship management — the client is the one in control), talent assessment, and the mentoring and cultivation of future leaders.
But not one of these issues is insurmountable…if succession is truly a priority.
For those that care significantly about successful transition the time to start the process is now.