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Planning the Orderly Succession of Firm Management

By Joel Rose

How a law firm approaches the succession issue will be influenced, in part, by (a) the firm's historical governance, (b) the personal characteristics, practice development, management and interpersonal skills and professional standing of partners, and (c) partners' perceptions of the abilities, skills, talents, interests and the personal and professional agendas of other partners.

A segment of our business is derived from assisting law firms strategically plan for their orderly succession of lawyer management. As such, it has been the author's experience that the governance of most organized law firms follow four evolutionary cycles, which include:

(1) The Benevolent Dictator - This may be one or more of the founding partners or a strong domineering partner who has been appointed or anointed;
(2) Rampant Democracy - This cycle frequently follows the benevolent dictator and emphasizes the egalitarian philosophy of governance. Every partner is equal, to some extent, and is expected to "pitch-in" to do any job, and to attend every meeting and have opinions on most issues;
(3) Committee Leadership - This cycle which consists of committees and more committees, usually follows the democratic form of governance. Partners are assigned to those committees in which they may have an interest and skill or experience. Partners realize that too much attorney time is spent managing the firm and the results of their management efforts are frequently less than satisfactory. Coordinating the work of the several committees, determining who has authority to decide issues that overlap into the jurisdiction of other committees and getting committees to meet and to reach decisions are major problems;
(4) Centralized Management Characterized as Representative Democracy - This cycle is predicated upon having an executive committee and/or a managing partner, special purpose committees and partners willing to subordinate their independence, to some extent, for the benefit of the firm. Partners determine broad policy issues which are interpreted and implemented by the executive committee, the managing partner and other committees.

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