Although succession planning involves common sense, it poses many challenges that must be recognized and managed along the way.
We sometimes can’t foresee when a firm transition is coming, but change is inevitable. The long-time managing partner has to step down for personal reasons; the firm’s highest business originator meets an untimely demise; the firm loses its largest client because the new, 40-year-old general counsel is more comfortable with her college sorority sister doing the work than the senior partner who has successfully handled the business since the GC was in elementary school; a crucial administrative staff member—the only person who knows the ins and outs of certain aspects of your business—retires to the Caribbean with minimal notice; one (or more) of your up and coming stars—in whose development you have invested countless hours and lots of money—is cherry picked by another firm.
The challenges that such transition issues create for large firms can be significant, but they pale in comparison to the challenges faced by smaller firms. Most first generation law firms do not survive their founding partners, and even one of these events can shake a smaller firm to its foundation. The key to surviving such changes is planning — anticipating and preparing as early as possible for the changes that will inevitably come, and preparing, as best we can, for the unexpected “disasters” that may befall us.
Given lawyers’ general aversion to risk, and considering the myriad leadership and business transition issues that could derail a law firm, someone might assume that most law firms would be right on top of succession planning. But that is not always, or even usually, the case. While today’s law firm leaders (most of whom are baby boomers) may be tempted to ignore the issue, or put it off indefinitely — after all, they aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and they won’t be around to reap the benefits in any event — firms that do not attend to succession planning are much more likely to fail than firms with solid succession plans.
This blog series will examine what a comprehensive succession plan includes and outline some of the challenges that transition planning presents, as well as suggest ways that some of those challenges can be managed. It is not a comprehensive guide to transition planning. Rather, it is intended to alert firms to the issues and to encourage them to get started. Time is of the essence.
Coming Soon – A Comprehensive Succession Plan: What Is It?
This blog series has been excerpted from an article that originally appeared in the November issue of the Defense Research Institute’s (DRI) “For The Defense” magazine, which can be found here.