How to Approach Difficult Conversations About Succession Planning

Talking about a firm’s future is hard enough. Build onto that the need to plan for a future that doesn’t include a senior attorney… Talk about awkward! There is also fear on the part of younger lawyers. It can often feel confrontational to approach senior lawyers and ask about their future plans.

Awkwardness and fear are key reasons why law firms delay doing anything about succession planning. These are difficult conversations! But they are also necessary conversations. Here are a few helpful tips to help you start them.

Tip #1: Don’t Wing It

You carefully and meticulously prepare matters when practicing law. This should be no different. Take the time to prepare before you approach a senior lawyer.

Tip #2: Consider the Logistics

When planning a difficult conversation at your firm, think about:

  • Who needs to attend? It’s best to have someone who has genuine rapport with or is respected by the senior lawyer. In a perfect world, that someone fits both requirements.
  • In what setting will the senior lawyer likely feel more comfortable? Is it better to meet outside the office over lunch or would the conversation be more effective during a more formal meeting at the office?
  • When should the conversation occur? If the senior lawyer is facing some difficult personal or work-related issues, consider waiting a few weeks or even months. You want the senior lawyer’s full attention with minimal mental distractions.

Tip #3: Plan for Emotions

As best you can, try to predict the senior attorney’s reaction so you can plan an appropriate response. Will there be anger? Denial? Acceptance?

Tip #4: Come Ready to Negotiate

It is usually best to approach the conversation as a negotiation. Expect there to be give and take. No one likes to negotiate with someone who’s first offer conveys a “take it or leave it” attitude. The firm and the senior lawyer each have certain needs and both parties must respectfully address them.

Tip #5: Don’t Expect It to Be Easy

Even with the best preparation, I have no illusions the conversation will be easy. But great preparation will make a difficult conversation easier.

My company offered me outplacement at one of those huge, “one-shape-fits-all” outfits. Yes, they were able to help me with my resume and cover letters, but boy, were they clueless about what different types of legal jobs entail and what t…" Read the rest
– Former General Counsel, Minneapolis, MN corporation

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