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It doesn’t—or at least it shouldn’t—take an army of business consultants to explain why law firms lacking succession plans are probably headed for trouble down the road.

What may be less obvious is the fact that failing to prepare for the future can have very real consequences in the present, as clients and young lawyers display little tolerance for firms that take a laissez-faire attitude toward succession planning.

This intolerance is particularly true of midsize and small firms, where leadership roles and key client relationships can often become concentrated among a small cadre of senior partners, leaving younger lawyers seeing no opportunity for advancement, and clients wondering whether they should start seeking more long-term relationships elsewhere.

A study released by ALM Legal Intelligence last year, “Securing the Future: Law Firm Succession Planning and the Challenges of Managing a Multigenerational Workforce,” found that one-third of respondents did not have succession plans in place for either firm leadership or client teams. Nearly 40 percent of those who said they did not have a plan in place for firm leadership reasoned that it is “not an immediate concern.” Forty-nine percent of those who said that they did not have a plan in place for client team leadership said that they had “difficulty identifying successors” and “faced resistance from senior partners.”

What’s more, according to the study, the Am Law 151-200 partnership is nearly half Baby Boomer and only 3 percent millennial. By contrast, Am Law 1-10 partnership is only one-third Baby Boomer and already 6 percent millennial.

For midsize and small firms, overreliance on senior partners can begin to have a detrimental effect long before those partners cease practicing.

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