In this episode of The Geek in Review, hosts Marlene Gebauer and Greg Lambert interview Laura Leopard, founder and CEO of Leopard Solutions, about succession planning challenges facing law firms. Leopard explains that many firms have partners nearing retirement age but no concrete plans for transitioning clients and leadership. This lack of succession planning threatens law firms’ futures.
Laura mentions that to make matters worse, the path to equity partnership is getting longer, making it harder to retain promising senior associates and counsel. Firms have added non-equity partner roles, keeping equity partner numbers small to inflate profits per partner. Leadership lacks incentives to retire, with no retirement plans or continued compensation. All this will hamper recruiting efforts, as younger generations prioritize work-life balance.
She recommends that in order to retain mid-career attorneys, firms must rethink policies on remote work, billable hours, and flexibility. Virtual firms with better lifestyle offerings are growing competitors. But firms seem unwilling to change. Leopard argues everything should be on the table for analysis by outside consultants. Phased retirements and succession mentoring could also help transition clients and power.
Though Laura Leopard (and even Bruce MacEwan) cannot point to examples of firms that have executed succession planning well, it is possible with courageous leadership. She advises setting retirement age limits, crafting written plans, and easing older partners’ exits. A too-big-to-fail mentality persists despite serious business vulnerabilities if talent is not retained and recruited.
Looking ahead, Leopard predicts the rise of virtual firms will shake up the legal industry as they encroach on Big Law territory with alternative fee arrangements. The pandemic accelerated dissatisfaction with law firm partnership and policies. As generational divides grow, flexible virtual firms will keep gaining ground over more rigid large firms.
This engaging discussion unpacks the complex dynamics around law firm succession planning and existential threats posed by lack of preparation. As partners cling to power, can bold leaders emerge to implement creative solutions and secure these institutions’ longevity? Tune in for an insightful examination of forces reshaping the legal landscape.