The Lawyer Plateau

In volatile situations, size and strength are not advantages – speed and agility are. As globalization and uncertain economics continue, law firms and law departments must develop highly nimble operating models that enable them to respond to new opportunities and new competition. Firms that try to maintain “status quo” will be on the plateau and then left behind.

A key ingredient in any model is the talent; both the “seats” in the firm/department and the talent in those seats. One of the most obvious places to see the lawyer plateau in our current day is in the partnership ranks – partner plateau. The partners who rose to partnership via academic year, supporting the firm’s rainmakers, are now, suddenly, expected to have their own clientele. A common firm point of view is that these lawyers are taking up expensive production seats and limiting the firm’s ability to recognize high producing associates via partnership. Often, the partner’s point of view is “What happened? – the game has changed.” Just as an organization must change to meet demands, so too, must the individual lawyer.

Survival of the fittest is happening in our legal profession. Action, training, and tools can alter organizations and individuals at the DNA level. Talon has measured results of lawyer plateau clients over the years and we have seen acceleration like these examples:

1) A partner client with $200k in portable business moved to a firm where it was a culture fit and went through client builder training to triple her practice in 18 months.

2) A law firm client, selecting a specific person in a specific practice area to be the succession leader of the practice area that lost the confidence of the partnership, clients were be referred out of the firm – turned the practice around and brought current client business back to the firm, making the practice one of the top profit areas of the firm.

3) A corporate legal department client: constant, yearly, turnover in one AGC position was blamed internally and externally on bad leadership from the GC. Hiring the right person for their seat at the culture fit level had the CEO praising the GC for the hire that has now been there three years.

An organism must adapt to be able to fulfill the needs of an ever-changing environment. Until recently the legal profession has been fairly sheltered from this requirement. Now the economy is forcing the profession to change and adapt.

Signs of being on the plateau:

• Attrition of associates is par for the course

• We have always done it this way

• I figured it out and look at me, they can figure it out like I did

• Just ignore them, they will figure out they don’t belong any more

• Th is origination is mine and I am not sharing credit

• The only measure of success that counts is the billable hour – that’s 2200 by the way

• They have been here for 20 years, we can’t let them go now

• Every law firm is the same, my only option is to go in house

• I don’t like sitting in front of the computer, that is not what I signed up for as a lawyer

• I want to collaborate instead of fighting to win

• I don’t trust my partners

Solutions to evolution, moving beyond the plateau and continuing to advance:

• Organizational transformation at the DNA level – hard examine of what is working

• Measures of success include more than billable hours

• Origination is shared when earned, promote development of the next generation and collaboration

• Diversity is practiced organization wide, not just discussed at the diversity meetings

• Professional development training is a recognition for high potential performers

• Emerging leaders get training on emotional intelligence and practical leadership readiness

• Communication effectiveness training is conducted regularly and used to attract and retain

• Client support via collaborative teams, expectations on roles, rewards and consequences

Now is the time to look for ways to leave your comfort zone and confront these new challenges in your practice – this leads to invigoration, renewal, energy, reward and intrigue. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that will guarantee success. What is certain is that in 2020 and beyond, old models must make way for new solutions.