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Less than half of large law firms in the US and Canada have leadership succession plans

18 May 2012

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Nearly four in ten large law firms do not have succession plans in place for key leadership roles and close to half have no intention of developing one, a recent survey has found.

The survey by Robert Half Legal is based on responses from 175 lawyers at the largest law firms in the United States and Canada.

“Leadership transition planning is an issue that many law firms often put on the backburner until a managing partner or practice group leader retires or resigns. However, the best time to create a succession plan is when one isn’t needed,” said executive director Charles Volkert.

“Proactive planning not only ensures the transfer of knowledge and business continuity but also adds to the stability of the firm, which can be beneficial to employees, shareholders and clients alike.”

As it can take years to identify and train new leaders for key roles, Volkert recommends that succession plans cover day-to-day operations, client service, business development and practice group management.

The report offers the following five tips for effective succession planning.

  1. Identify critical positions. Determine which specialties are core business areas and what effect the retirement of staff supporting these areas will have on the firm.

  2. Zero in on leadership skills. Look beyond a potential successor’s legal expertise and client roster to determine whether that person is able to create a vision and inspire others. The best candidates often bring a variety of skills to the table.

  3. Develop a knowledge transfer process. Ask a departing employee to develop a plan for sharing as much knowledge as possible with his successor, such as conducting an analysis of work and preparing documentation to capture critical information.

  4. Make mentoring a priority. Once a successor has been identified, leaders should engage in active mentoring. This may include inviting the successor to key meetings and making him aware of challenges to the business.

  5. Go for a test run. Vacations can be an opportune time to put a future leader in charge and see how that person performs. Having an eventual successor take the reins during absences may also make time off more relaxing for senior leaders.

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