Law firm succession is a huge issue for many of today’s law firms.  Not surprisingly, more firms than ever before are focusing on succession by adopting written succession plans that address leadership succession and client relationship transfer.  Despite the importance of succession, many firms have no written plan and remain unprepared for transitioning leadership or client relationships.

But even when law firms draft succession plans that address leadership and client relationships, too many of those plans don’t do enough.  Too many plans are deficient because thought and resource dedication for plan implementation is inadequate or an afterthought.  Like the football coach that comes up with a great game plan but fails to prepare the players to execute, the job is only half done.

Giving plan implementation inadequate attention can mean your carefully constructed succession plan won’t work.  What about your firm’s plan, you may ask?  Simply put, your firm’s succession plan is in danger of not working when any of these five signs exist:

You are Too Satisfied That a Succession Plan Was Completed.  Dedicating the time to prepare a comprehensive succession plan is no small task. Seeking input from important voices within the firm and forging a consensus on the plan typically doesn’t come easily or naturally.  So once a comprehensive succession plan is developed it is natural to feel a sense of accomplishment.  In reality, a firm’s adoption of a succession plan with all its aspirations represents only the first steps in succession.  Too much patting oneself on the back for finally drafting the succession plan can be a bad sign.

Elements of Plan Implementation are Non-existent or Vague.   Most succession plans aspire to continue a firm’s legacy through the next generation, and many do a credible job of identifying the ways past successes need to be continued into the future.  Just getting to that step oftentimes puts the firm light years ahead of where it was. But too often the plan is light on how it is to be implemented or there is no companion plan that specifically details how the aspirations will be implemented.  A weak implementation scheme suggests looming disappointment.

Measurements of Implementation Success are not Identified.  A close corollary to needing a clear idea about implementation is identifying the ways in which implementation can be graded.  Any implementation initiative must create clear measurements of success along the way to full implementation.  Ephemeral commitments about getting the next generation involved or making client introductions is not enough.  Substantive markers of progress must be created. If clear signs directing the firm to where it is going don’t exist, it is going nowhere.

Accountability Requirements for the Plan’s Success are not Established. Closely aligned with the need to measure success is the need to place persons in charge of achieving success.  A lack of clarity on who is “on point” for getting stuff done means nobody is “on point.”  But it is not enough to make someone responsible for implementing aspects of the plan if that person is unclear on how he or she is going to be graded. Specific milestones and timelines for achievement need to be assigned and understood by all parties given responsibility for the plan’s implementation.  A firm without assigned responsibilities and markers of success is living in a “not my job” world.

The Persons Responsible for the Plan’s Success are not Held Accountable.  A person assigned any responsibility for plan implementation must be held accountable for performance.  It is imperative that performance be periodically reviewed so that the firm can assess progress towards achieving cited objectives. When the firm falls short of objectives, corrective action can be taken, including changing personnel assignments.  Conversely, on target progress can be noted and rewarded.  Frequent review and accountability keep a plan from stalling.

Producing a consensus driven succession plan is a critical step towards creating an enduring firm legacy.  As important as it can be, however, a firm is not positioned well for achieving its succession goals if any one of the above five circumstances exist.  In thinking about your firm’s succession plan, what are the chances it will work?