Does your law firm have a plan for its future?
At The Cashroom, we have recently started extensive training programmes for our ‘Rising Stars’ and ‘Future Leaders’. The initiative is aimed at identifying key people for the future success of the business, and to start developing them to ensure they are able to perform and thrive when the time comes to step up the ladder. It made me think about my time in practice as a Solicitor, and the fact that I never came across any such deliberate and detailed planning for the future. Sure, there were appraisals and performance reviews which set goals, and identified areas for improvement, but they were concerned more with performing better in your current role, rather than planning and preparing for future roles, and areas of interest. Have a think for moment – does your firm have a plan for developing its key people for the future?
I deliberately say key ‘people’ because although you must plan for the future ownership of the business via the next batch of Partners, it is just as crucial that you plan for key staff, and older Partners too. The partnership agreement may provide a set retirement age, but retaining people as Consultants or Ambassadors for the firm beyond that may be crucial for retaining certain longstanding clients who have worked with that person for many years. Equally, Paralegals or Support Staff may have the deepest understanding of certain clients, or may be the ones who are in regular contact with them on an ongoing basis.
When developing these key people for the future, it is also crucial to find out what they want and aim for in their working lives. When was the last time you asked your staff what their career aspirations were? There are many reasons to do so – for starters, if you can’t offer what they are aiming for, they will leave at some point, and you need to know that. Secondly, the future wellbeing of your firm will need people to take care of the different areas of the business – not just the practice of law – so you need to find out if you have people who have an interest in being, for example, ‘Business Development Partner/Manager/Director’, ‘Client Relations/Complaints Partner’, ‘Cashroom Manager / COLP / COFA’, or ‘Managing Partner’. It is important to find and develop these people over a period of time, and also to think about these role specifications clearly so you are not setting people up for a fall. All too often, particularly the role of Managing Partner, is given to somebody without enough regard for whether they are the best person for the role, what the firm expects of them by way of splitting their time between fee earning and management commitments and, crucially, any sort of plan as to how they would return to a full time fee earning Partner role thereafter.
So, perhaps there is some food for thought here for discussion at your next Partners meeting. Do you have the same people in mind to take over the reins, and how are you going to equip them with the skills to do so? I would suggest putting a realistic plan together, with clear and achievable objectives, put it in to practice as soon as possible, and keep in regular dialogue with the people involved. They will likely be motivated by the opportunity, bringing better engagement immediately, and more seamless business continuity and succession into the future.
Gregor Angus, The Cashroom