Sarah Sargent offers an associate’s view of succession planning through working with and supporting the millennials in your business 

Sarah Sargent

We’re all used to the term “baby boomers”. The new buzzword is “millennials” (and don’t even start asking about Generations X, Y or Z!), but does anyone really know who millennials are, and have you considered their impact on your plans for the future?

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1960, and so naturally make up a significant portion of most firms’ management teams. Many baby boomers cite concerns over retirement as one of the main things keeping them awake at night, including that they may have to delay retirement as they simply cannot afford it.

Millennials were born between 1982 and 2002. Millennials in Western countries are considered to be among the most privileged people on earth, since they were born at a time of great technological advancement and general education. Current statistics seem to suggest that millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2030.

It was only when I started to research this article that I realised that I was (almost) a millennial, but when I started to look at the ethos of millennials, I realised that I fell right within that group. According to Forbes, the attributes include the following.

  • Millennials want to be a part of ‘the process’

    They have strong entrepreneurial tendencies and desire growth. If they don’t feel they’re growing at a company or firm, they’re much more likely to move to another than their older peers.
  • Millennials want to be coached and mentored instead of ‘bossed’ or told what to do

    Interestingly, this does not mean that they want to work independently with little supervision; it’s quite the opposite. They actually prefer more interaction and feedback than the typical baby boomer.

What does this mean for succession planning?

The success of any business is measured by longevity.

The aim of any partner should be to ensure that their business continues long after their retirement. Partners need to plan both personally and professionally for their own retirement, and have an effective exit strategy. And the business needs to plan ahead for the retirement of the managing partner and other senior partners, to ensure that the clients stay with the firm.

With the impending retirement of the baby boomer generation and the unrelenting challenge of finding and keeping talented staff, there can be grave consequences for firms that fail to develop a succession strategy.

Key to effective succession planning are:

  • partner roles and responsibilities
  • leadership development
  • compensation and retirement.

The view from an associate

Be clear

Make it clear which qualities you are looking for. Modern day law firms are a business, and the biggest fee-earner may not make the best partner. If you want someone with great management skills and the ability to manage a budget effectively, make sure your associates are aware of this.

Be innovative

Offer training and support which is not considered standard continuing professional development. Be open to different approaches to reaching partnership, rather than having a ‘policy’ which becomes a dry document. Partnership should not be one size fits all.

Be open

Make sure your firm’s succession plan is visible to everyone, not just your partners. And create an open environment for talking about it. Even the most ambitious associate may feel awkward in raising the issue of progressing to partner. We need to know who is expected to raise the issue first, and the easiest way to deal with this is in open discussion.

The retention question

If you want to develop your staff into partners of the future, then you first need to retain them.

I cannot speak for everyone, but for me, retention was about a path for my future, not necessarily who was offering the largest pay packet. Yes, remuneration is important – we all want financial recognition for what we bring to the firm – but being shown the path for progression is often just as important as pay.

However, not everyone wants to progress. I have come across many excellent solicitors and associates who are fantastic lawyers, bringing in the fees, but who have absolutely no interest in taking on the additional responsibility of partnership. This is increasingly common among millennials. These people are vital to a firm, so you need to retain them, too. Don’t discount them or make them feel less important than those pushing to move up the ladder.

A lot of what I’ve said boils down to one piece of advice: know your staff. Know what they want to achieve, and be open about how they can achieve it.