Jordan and I will need to add Susan Hackett to our traveling road show as she has now entered the fray. Below Susan responds to Jordan’s critique of my critique of his original post. (Just writing that makes me kind of dizzy).
See if you can follow the bouncing ball in this interesting debate.
Thanks to Susan for adding to the conversation.
I’m with you both on many of the points raised, but have to say I’m most interested in two elements here that Jordan addresses near the end of his post and that he’s promised to cover at Law21:
1.) the issue of training (or should I say “lack of training”) in most firms because partners are so busy performing as much work as they can themselves (and sometimes hoarding hours and clients that should be served by others who are more junior) that they take no time to invest in the next generations of lawyers who will succeed them in the firm at EVERY level.
2.) the issue of the pipeline of legal talent – on which both firms and clients rely, which is only going to become a more acute concern as the boomers continue to move slowly toward retirement. There will be far fewer lawyers with significant experience and carefully cultivated training in the pipeline behind each successive class for the future if things don’t change soon.
As a result, I think we have to give Greenberg Traurig (GT) more credit than Jordan suggests is due. At least they’re actually training new lawyers in a systematic way (regardless of whether they’re creating the future class of partners or not). Most firms are moving their mouths to claim that they’re raising their associates and future partners up and helping them prepare for the challenges of sophisticated practice, but they aren’t. And thus, the promise or offer made to those new lawyers who invest their lives in firms, as well as the promise or offer made to clients that the firm has a well-prepared bench who are properly prepared to handle their work appropriately, isn’t worth the paper their marketing brochures are written on.
I’ll offer up my regular harping on behalf of the client perspective in all this, and remind folks that many clients are watching closely what firms are and aren’t doing to respond to change: not just open their minds to new thinking, but act to implement new ways of working. While the new class of employed lawyers that GT is raising up here are presumed by Jordan and perhaps others to be a non-starter in terms of value (suggesting it would be better/faster/cheaper to outsource than to build your own more expensive bench of employed talent), what GT is essentially creating here is a team of in-house counsel… clients carrying the same designation of employed lawyers working in their company’s businesses may be a little surprised to hear the presumption here that employed lawyers are likely to lack the ability to deliver value as well as outsourced teams.
If anybody is likely to recognize and wish to discuss how to leverage a team of carefully trained and supervised law firm in-house lawyers, perhaps it’s the in-house counsel who work in the clients firms like GT serve. Maybe GT isn’t thinking like a law firm here; maybe GT is thinking like a client. In assessing their program, take a minute to look at it through the lens of the client’s business model, rather than the mis-aligned lens that law firms often use to assess what’s of value to them (while not focusing on what’s of value to their clients).
I’m not ready to jump to the conclusion that clients won’t value this new class of GT lawyers. They may not be motivated or trained to become the next generation of partners as we’ve known them in big firms, but that may not be such a bad thing. Why would anyone want to build their future firm based on the motivations and training that has left many firms with a teetering foundation in today’s competitive market? Maybe GT is building something that they will profit handsomely from because it provides what clients want to buy rather than what old-line firm partners want to sell.
Let’s remember who are the responsible parties for in-elastically driving up rates over the last several decades to the level that there is no longer any correlation between cost and value for clients of larger firms: it wasn’t the servicing or employed lawyers (who clients LOVE!); it was untrained baby lawyers (who cost too much because firms hired 50 of them every year with the assumption that attrition would weed out 45 of them before they returned the firm’s and clients’ investment by becoming partners) and partners seeking ever-higher PPP.
Perhaps we should give GT credit for trying something new (more than most of its peers have done), and for exerting significant effort to train those in the firm serving clients with more efficiently valued services. I’m going to wait to see how that new class of lawyers’ services are actually packaged and priced (you reading me on this one, Toby? 🙂 before I assume that the cost and value of those carefully trained lawyers is not as good for clients as the cost and value of lawyers in comparable non-law-firm service providers (or the cost and value of those associates who are largely not being developed in firms without programs like this).
Maybe GT will fail. Goodness knows, there are things I would have done differently if I was running the project.
But I’m not. And Huzzah! to GT for trying something new. There are a lot of smart people working there, and there’s a reason they have a hugely successful law firm and I don’t. So I’m in favor of giving them the benefit of the doubt and I’d encourage those of us who are interested in pushing forward firms to try new ideas to step back from our natural tendency to be hyper-critical about the perceived flaws in the idea to give the firm room to see if what’s good in this project can move law firm training and client service options deploying new lawyers forward in the current desert of options for many new lawyers.