October 23, 2012


WHO IS NEXT IN LINE? Whether the question is who will be the next managing shareholder, the next attorney in charge of a client relationship or the next president of the United States, knowing who is next in line is critical.

Even after his passing in February 2011, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, is still being quoted as saying “I am in control here.” Few can forget that on March 30, 1981, within hours of President Reagan being shot, Secretary of State Haig mistakenly declared himself the acting president. In fact, there were three people in line ahead of Haig in the constitutional order of succession. His role as secretary of state ended approximately a year and a half later; yet Haig’s actions that day continue to overshadow his contributions to the country. His reputation paid a heavy price for not knowing (or for misrepresenting) the order of succession.

None of us can afford to not know who the next person in control of our firm or our clients will be. Just one thing is for certain—change will occur. Consequently, all of us need to be prepared for it, whether it occurs by deliberate choice or happenstance. We prepare for contingencies in our cases and with our clients, so why not be equally prepared for contingencies in our business?

It is not mere coincidence that the root word of “succession” is “success.” And if you have developed a succession plan, your firm is far more likely to succeed when the time for transition comes. Whether the shift is needed as a result of retirement, illness, death or even scandal, the outcome should be the same—a financially successful succession for the firm and the transitioning lawyer. Taking time to plan and develop the next generation of leaders today will result in maintaining business performance and continuity in the future.

Remember, though, a succession plan must be flexible. It has to be adaptable not only to changes inside your firm, but also to outside changes in the profession and the world. For instance, the recent economic downturn had a dramatic impact on law firms’ succession planning, with many partners who’d thought to start retiring in 2008 remaining active in their careers as they wait for their 401k plans to recover. This is but one factor that is currently affecting succession planning in many firms.

Of course, succession planning is not only important in law firms, it is important in any business or nonprofit organization, and even in your own family (better known as wills and estates). Here, the Law Practice Management Section continues to develop leaders as part of its succession plan. If you are interested in becoming more actively involved in the Section, contact the LPM staff with any questions. This year’s orderly transition of leadership for the Law Practice Management Section will take place at the ABA Annual Meeting in Toronto, Ontario, August 4-9. Please plan to join us as we welcome my successor, Thomas L. Mighell, as LPM Section Chair.