The traditional partnership model of succession planning looks ill-equipped to accommodate the aspirations of millennials.
Cards on the table – I am 59 years of age. This qualifies me to ruminate about succession planning.
Until recently, one of the biggest challenges faced by any senior or managing partner, or indeed CEO, was that of succession planning. More specifically, it was ‘baby boomer’ succession planning – in other words, your classic 59-year-old partner. And the secret was to encourage an initial discussion about succession five years in advance of their retirement. Truth be told, this is still a significant challenge for many firms. But it is nothing when compared with the new kid on the block. The new challenge is longer-term succession planning with the ‘millennial ’ generation.
The reason for this is that the trajectory of lawyers’ careers is set to be far less predictable in future. Gone are the days when one could identify a 30-something star and, with any certainty, line them up to succeed to one’s clients in 20 years’ time. No, the prognosis for client and practice continuity in the late 2030s looks much more precarious.
The drivers of this shift are well documented. Millennials do not aspire to the office of partnership in the same way as previous generations. They want a better quality of life, with work and leisure more in balance. They also want to do different things in life, which means they will have many more jobs than the average baby boomer.
Robust statistics are hard to come by, but one study by Harvard Business Review puts the average number of jobs in a baby boomer’s life time as 4.4. Another study estimates it is 4.9. Forbes estimates that the average tenure of a millennial’s job is 4.5 years, which means that they could have as many as 10 jobs during their lifetime. This could translate into two or three entirely different careers.
So, what to do? Let me suggest a few questions which may be helpful when pondering this very real dilemma.
Is it time, finally, to rethink the partnership model? Is it really fit for purpose long-term? What does leadership mean in the legal business of the future? Clue: it may not be the same as ownership. How many leaders will a law firm really need? Who should be the custodians of key client relationships? Clue: almost certainly not just one person; possibly not even a lawyer. What does the career trajectory of tomorrow’s lawyer look like? How can we keep them interested and motivated beyond the 4-5 years that has become the norm? And if we lose them, might our alumni programme ensure they come back to us in 10 years’ time? After all, better to have two bites of a career cherry than one.
I do not pretend to have the answers but this is a very real issue that law firms should be dealing with now.
Simon Slater, CEO, Pemberton Greenish, London SW3