I am a partner and a member of the Executive Committee of a 250 attorney firm in the mid-west. We have had a succession plan in place for several years for our senior partners. Several have completed their phasedowns successfully and others are struggling. One of our challenges is many of our mid-career partners are simply not ready. I would appreciate your thoughts.
This is a common problem that many larger firms face as their senior partners phasedown to retirement and try to transition client relationships and firm managerial and leadership roles to the next generation. Often the focus of non-founders is on billable hours and working attorney fee collections as opposed to non-billable longer-term investment activities such as client development, firm leadership, and management.
Unlike smaller law firms most large law firms do invest time and effort in developing mid-career partners in these areas. However, often more can be done. Here are a few thoughts:
- Profile and Personal Brand Building. While developing new clients and new sources of business is always a goal - another questions is - is the mid-level partner, who is planned as the future responsible partner, bio/brand strong enough to entice the client to stay with the firm after the senior partner retires? Often it is not. All mid-level partners should have active personal development plans that requires profile enhancement and personal brand development. These plans should include steps to be taken and tasks to be completed as well as a timeline including milestones and deadlines.
- Go Deep with Client Relationship Development. Clients hire lawyers - not just law firms. In fact, the law firm brand is what gets the firm on the client's short list - the lawyer and his or her personal brand is what lands the client - the lawyer's relationship with the client is what keeps the client. Clients work with lawyers they like and trust - transitioning this to another lawyer in the firm will take time and nurturing - more than one or two meetings.
- Encourage Mid-Level Partners to Invest the Time to Understand Their Client Business as Well as Their Industries. Clients of law firms are always telling us that their law firms do not understand their business.
- Encourage Mid-Level Partners to Raise Their Hands, Volunteer, and Take Baby Steps Toward Leadership and Management Roles in the Firm. Such steps will cause senior partners in the firm to take notice and eventually lead to appointments to various committees and possibly eventually to an appointment on the Executive Committee.
- Work at Producing Excellent Work Product. In addition to the above excellent work product and hard legal skills, client service, and personality are all critical as well.
I would encourage mid-level partners to try to budget 70% of their worked time for billable client production and 30% for non-billable investment activities.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC