Planning to retire from a law firm is often much more than just setting individual retirement goals. For legal support staff and leadership alike, succession planning is essential. But this involves more than just choosing employees who can replace those who are leaving for retirement or other reasons. Succession planning ensures that the firm’s goals will be carried on far into the future, prevailing over the needs of any one stakeholder.
What is succession planning?
Succession plans are done to “pass the torch” by increasing the availability of experienced employees who are prepared to assume different roles as they become available. For law firms, these plans differ from those created for other businesses because they must proactively protect clients and colleagues and conform with the American Bar Association’s relevant rules and policies.
When creating a succession plan for a law firm, decision making is required in four key areas:
Client transition planning
A major aspect of succession planning involves developing a client transition plan, specifically, addressing how the next generation of legal professionals will interact with the firm’s most important clients. But clients are not commodities that can be easily transferred from one lawyer to another.
The attorney/paralegal-client relationship is extremely personal, and the Rules of Professional Conduct maintain that it is always the client’s choice regarding which attorney will represent them. Similarly, clients should feel satisfied with any new support staff assisting them. Trust is key when trying to keep clients, which means it will take time. It is likely that your clients have formed a genuine friendship with you which may not easily transfer to your chosen replacement.
In addition to sharing your tips for interacting and keeping each unique client, be sure to also share how and where to store client information.
Knowledge silos are a big threat to organizations and their future. Who else knows what you know? Be sure to share what you know and document the instructions before leaving — especially if it comes to how your firm spends its money and the partners/contracts they rely on for their day-to-day operations.
This includes covering topics like:
- Proper organization of all outstanding contracts
- Names and contacts for who manages each contract internally and on the vendor side
- How to gain access to any relevant accounts
- Current liabilities and nuances of each vendor
- How to provide proper payment
- Blacklisted vendors
Always start with where a person is. For instance, newbies may need to be told that just because your firm has used a particular set of dependable vendors in the past does not mean they should blindly accept any quotes a vendor provides. The goal should be to continue to secure competitive bids without sacrificing the quality of service.
Pass along your inside tips, knowledge of firm policies, procurement, and record-keeping processes, along with training on core vendor-management tools your firm relies on.
Cloud software tools and account permissions
Speaking of vendor management systems, what other key software tools will your team need access to? Are you the billing contact for your firm? If so, whose account should you extend the permissions to?
One of the worst things a person can do before they leave a firm is to keep key information and procedures to themselves — especially online tools for which your company relies on a daily basis. So document this key information (whether you are getting ready to leave or not) and make it available.
The financial planning aspect of succession planning should not only address how to satisfy current liabilities but also plan for future expansion. Financial planning for the purpose of succession should involve educating all lawyers in the business of law, including how the firm’s financial model works, how to attract new clients, and how to make the firm financially successful.
Since retirements can cause financial stress on any law firm (especially small ones), your firm will greatly appreciate the training you provide others on how to help bring more money in.
Your legacy at a firm will not only be defined by what you’ve done, but also by your character and how you leave.
Give one last act of assistance by preparing any insights and feedback you think may help set your firm up for future success. You may be given an opportunity to provide feedback and suggestions on improving the overall employee experience and culture, reveal any untapped opportunities or cost savings recommendations, as well as help with identifying coworkers worthy of a promotion.
Leadership development addresses how law firm team members, associates, and beyond, will transition into positions of greater responsibility to continue the firm’s work once incumbents such as yourself are no longer available.
Before you leave, be sure to tell your manager or HR team:
- Which projects you oversaw, and who will take the lead going forward
- Positive feedback on any of the team members you’ve trained and worked with that you believe has a promising future at the firm
- Provide insight on which employees you believe have been great brand ambassadors of firm values and creating a positive work culture in your experience
A well thought-out succession plan for a law firm will help ensure continuity, keep the organization on a solid financial footing, allow for change, inspire client loyalty, and foster longer-lasting relationships that will continue into the next generation.
Do you have any other suggestions for retirement planning for a law firm? How will you finish out your time in the legal industry?