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Many of the largest and most profitable firms today have been built on the backs of entrepreneurial lawyers who prospered within a live-and-let-live culture that rewarded them handsomely for winning top client business. Those lawyers—often thriving on a sort of maverick persona—served as sole relationship partners for their clients, which typically accounted for a sizeable portion of the firm’s overall revenue. In recent years, though, as client problems have grown increasingly complex and multifaceted, the client service model has evolved from disaggregated, solo gurus to broader, cross-practice teams. Many firms are unprepared for this shift, as senior partners inch toward retirement with no real client succession plan in place.

Clients care deeply about succession planning–whether or not they reveal it directly to their client relationship partner. Clients increasingly demand direct access to the right experts to help solve tough business problems by leveraging insights from across other clients and industries. This form of integrated client service that incorporates multiple generations and a layering of expertise is what has been referred to as smart collaboration. It is instrumental in helping clients achieve a continuity of service, even when the senior partner moves on.

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