Succession Planning Tips from The Firm for Non-Royals

Some “firms” have it easy when they’re working out their succession planning. “Next, Charles will be in charge, then William, then George. All set for the next hundred years!”

I’m referring, of course, to the British Royal Family, known in some circles as The Firm. Chances are, however, that your firm doesn’t have quite as clear a line of succession in place. Maybe you thought you did, and then a Wallis Simpson turned up and threw a wrench into things. Or maybe plans haven’t really been thought out, and you’re just winging it.

Guess what. Your clients don’t want you winging it. They want to know what will happen to them and their needs when change occurs. Note I said when, not if. That’s because if there’s one constant in life, it’s change. Clients may not want anything to change, but it’s going to happen anyway. How are you preparing for it?

Boomer Retirement

Most lawyers are not in it for life, like Queen Elizabeth. They will want to retire and savor the fruits of their labor. Even those who want to work longer will probably cut back their hours. Right now, senior partners aged 60 or older control 50 percent or more of the client base and in most cases run the firm. As you lose your older attorneys, you need to ensure that you are building up you ranks of younger lawyers.

It’s not enough to just have them there, waiting in the stables for their turn to pull the carriage. Succession planning takes work. You have to train them and get them involved with their potential clients so the transition is smooth for everyone – lawyers and clients.

A few things you’ll want to ensure you address in your succession planning include:

Key documentation: Client information and files should be identified and easily locatable.

Client contact: Clients should meet regularly with both attorneys as their work is being transferred to a new attorney whenever possible.

Transition expectations: Best practices recommend having a transition document, outlining milestones and timelines for each member of the transition team.

Compensation: Structuring compensation for the transitioning attorney should be clarified up front.

Client check in: Throughout the process, you’ll want to check in with the clients to learn how they’re feeling and if their needs are still being met.

There are times when the smooth, planned out transitions don’t work, such as an unexpected death or emergency situation. But having a plan and using it for the majority of your client successions will put you in a better place to handle those unexpected situations. The skills and knowledge your team develops from having a process for succession planning will cross over into the unplanned situations, helping you to handle them with more finesse.

After all, do you think The Firm doesn’t have a plan in place in the unlikely event that the upcoming Royal Baby, currently seventh in line to the throne, somehow ends up wearing the crown? Trust me, they do.

Want to learn more about succession planning? C4CM’s Lawyer Succession: Keys to Partner Compensation and Client Transfers, explains how to make specific compensation decisions for individual partners as they transition to retirement; and how smart firms should prepare now for issues associated with senior-level partners’ departure from practice, before a client crisis occurs. Get it today!

-Tina Nacrelli

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