June 21, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

A huge proportion of the bar is nearing retirement age, and law firms are facing the challenging question of succession planning. Unfortunately, the topic gets little attention at most firms, since it raises just about every issue lawyers and law firms dread and avoid: client transitions, leadership changes and partner income and payouts. Don’t brush succession planning to the side. The future of your firm—and the legal profession—rests on tackling planning for the future head on. In this issue of Law Practice, we have collected articles that will give you the background information you need to rise to the occasion.

In our lead article, Marcia Pennington Shannon outlines the issues to consider and fundamental steps to take to create a transition plan for partners. Tom Grella helps you zero in on five basic questions firm leaders like himself must ask in dealing with succession planning, and Steven Taylor profiles three firms that have successfully dealt with succession planning issues, including moving young lawyers into the leadership pipeline—and how one firm’s succession planning led to a major overhaul of its 16-lawyer firm structure.

Firms that haven’t paid due attention to succession planning may face a major hit to their bottom line—even the death of the firm. Stephen Mabey and Karen MacKay highlight the urgency of this situation, and how you can take steps to avoid a devastating impact on revenues. Also, no doubt some of our readers will choose to shut down their practices in the future. Sheila Blackford and Pete Roberts’ article outlines the hows and whens of closing down a solo practice in particular, including a checklist of to-dos and advice on negotiating a possible sale.

Elsewhere in the issue, Susan Manch offers a primer on leadership development programs—fundamental to any successful long-term succession plan. And finally, Linda Klein offers her thoughts on the connection between a happy, empowered staff and excellent client service. Her firm, Baker Donelson, has been consecutively named to Fortune magazine’s “Best Places to Work.” She is managing shareholder of her firm’s offices and current Chair of the ABA House of Delegates.

I encourage you to give succession planning the attention it deserves. It is worth your effort, for the future of your firm and to meet the needs of the legal services consumer. There are great opportunities for firms that can successfully deal with this tough issue by adapting, changing and growing. Good luck with your efforts.