Most large law firms do nothing to harness the reputation and goodwill of a retiring partner.
Partners in law firms, particularly those in the provinces, spend their working life embedding themselves into the local community. Certainly the days of the single ‘family’ solicitor have passed; clients are used to being delegated to the appropriate department for their particular problem; but most individual clients will retain a sense of loyalty to one or more of the firm’s partners. After a career of, say, 40 years the retiring partner will have myriad former clients, accountants, business contacts of different expert disciplines and other valuable contacts, accumulated over an active working lifetime.
Furthermore, following retirement the former partner will most probably indulge in a range of activities. They may take up trusteeships or other voluntary positions; they may play golf or other sports; maintain membership of freemasonry or Rotary-type activities ; perhaps join a Probus luncheon club or generally indulge in new pastimes and activities. They are likely to have a large range of contacts. In all these organisations the retiring partner’s reputation is likely to be such that they will often be asked to give informal legal advice (of which request they will be suitably wary) but at least be invited to recommend a suitable solicitor. Likewise, the former clients and contacts will often see the retired solicitor as their first port of call for recommendation of a lawyer.
I retired 10 years ago from a 20 partner law firm (it is now much larger). In the first five years after retirement requests for advice and recommendation averaged a couple a week. In the second five years this diminished but numbers were still significant, and even after a 10-year separation a dozen or so requests continue to be made each year.
So what do large law firms do to harness the reputation and goodwill of the retiring partner? Usually, nothing. Most firms instantly delete the email and contact details of the former partner, and although letters may be sent to those active clients that the partner had on their departure, that will probably be the extent of the steps taken. As we all know, clients seek legal advice when some one-off event occurs. Thus, only those who happen to have current matters relevant to the retiring partner are likely to be contacted.
So a former client who suddenly has a problem searches against the firm that he has always instructed: his usual adviser is nowhere to be found – the search engine produces no matches.
What a huge waste of the marketing potential of highly respected and well-known professionals. Why cannot firms simply have a ‘history’ tab under which retired partners can be listed with the name of the current recommended adviser within the firm placed alongside? The highlights of the former partner’s career might even be included; perhaps he or she had been published, or sat on influential boards, even served as a deputy judge? Past achievements could thus be referred to and ought to enhance the reputation of the firm overall. More importantly, by including the name of the retired partner, the successor to the partner’s work will be identified and continuity will be maintained.
But how to persuade the retired partner that their former firm remains the best source of advice? Once a year invite the retirees to drinks or a modest lunch, give a brief presentation on where the firm is now and what it has achieved. Make the retirees feel encouraged by the future prospects of the firm and be able to put names to the new faces.
So, half an hour’s work for the web designer; a couple of hours a year to butter up the ‘has-beens’; lots of future work recommended; job done. How many firms will do it, I wonder?
David Mitchell was for 40 years a partner of the merged firms which are now Shakespeare Martineau