Andrew E. Jillson 2017-02-27 12:40:43
Planting the Seeds How small firms can plan for succession today. It is no wonder that many attorneys and law firms are giving thought to succession planning. Firms shut down or disappear every year. Indeed, the recent news about the closing of Fort Worth’s venerable Shannon Gracey Ratliff & Miller is yet another sober reminder that while transitioning a firm to the next generation may be ideal, for many, it may prove unattainable. If a relatively large firm like Shannon Gracey closes, how can a small one with lesser resources possibly make succession work? Even though succession planning at a smaller law firm can be difficult, it is by no means impossible. Positioning a smaller firm so that it thrives generationally is a matter of advance planning and discipline. Dramatic steps are not required, but there can be no substitute for approaching each day with the future in mind. Here are five things to start doing now: Think about your firm with a long-term view. One of the difficulties large law firms face is that true long-term value may become secondary to short-term financial rewards. In a small firm, however, ownership is often less dispersed, allowing for an easier path to building for the future. By investing in client relationships and leadership succession, smaller law firms may have an easier time than their larger counterparts. Make hiring decisions premised on the future. Not all associate candidates or lateral hires aspire to work at an AM Law 200 law firm. Many eschew the Big Law option because it offers little in career longevity—a point Big Law may acknowledge based on its turnover statistics. Smaller law firms desiring a multi-generational future can hire and nurture new talent, offering them a sense of place, belonging, and longevity. Include a leadership assessment in annual reviews. Most law firms review their lawyers annually to assess economic contribution and to provide constructive feedback. Smaller law firms thinking long term will include a yearly assessment about an attorney’s leadership qualities and contributions to the firm itself. Law firms thinking about the future think about more than billable hours. Assign firm projects and responsibilities to your junior lawyers. Sometimes senior lawyers just won’t let go. It won’t seem so much like letting go if the firm gradually integrates junior lawyers into important projects and relationships with clients. Not only will immersion make succession planning easier, but also the training of junior lawyers “by doing” will be both individually invaluable and beneficial to senior management. Moreover, early involvement in initiatives can reduce the demands on senior-level lawyers. Reward contributions to the firm’s succession goals. Financial reward for firm projects or responsibilities tackled, even if modest, is crucial to the development of the next generation. So too is rewarding client relationship maintenance. Positive reinforcement will aid the firm in the present but also prepare it for the future. The seeds for succession planning must be planted and watered constantly if the future is to be harvested. With advance planning and a commitment to execution, it can be accomplished at any firm regardless of size. For more resources, go to texasbar.com/succession. ANDREW E. JILLSON is an owner and director of Hayse, where he advises law firms on transitional issues such as succession planning (including performing succession audits), merger and acquisition, restructuring, crisis, and wind-down. He writes and speaks on the topic of law firm transition nationally.
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