Case Study :

Training Successors so a Firm’s Founders Can Pass the Torch

The Issue

A midsized Virginia-based law firm found itself in a predicament. Two founding partners wanted to step back from running the firm’s day-to-day operations, so they could move on, retire and enjoy life with their families. But transferring firm ownership from the first generation to the second created a number of challenges.

First and foremost, the founding partners were aggressive rainmakers and had brought in most of the firm’s business over the years while the younger generations of attorneys processed the work and met client needs. Second, the firm had no systematic, documented way to pass along knowledge. Once the founders left, their accrued insights would no longer be available to the firm. Finally, the generation gap created thorny cultural issues, namely: How could these Baby Boomers pass the torch to Gen Ex-ers and Millennials, who are guided by different values and ambitions?    

The partners knew they needed an approach that would allow the firm to move forward without jeopardizing the institution they spent decades building.

The client needed a clear strategy for passing responsibilities to the next generation of firm leaders.

The Strategy

The firm retained Jaffe to establish and implement a strategic succession plan. After a deep dive into the firm’s culture, values and practices, Jaffe engineered a three-part solution.

The first part entailed adopting a business development training and coaching program. Jaffe worked closely with the partners to get the program off the ground before involving senior associates. Now, the firm rotates groups of attorneys annually through the program to provide comprehensive, firmwide training.

Second, Jaffe selected five attorneys to attend a rigorous leadership-training program at a local university on a volunteer basis.

Finally, Jaffe revamped the firm’s governance structure, suggesting a mandatory retirement age and reallocation of equity.

Jaffe’s consultants crafted a leadership-training plan and suggested organizational changes to encourage a smooth transfer of power.

The Impact

In less than five years, the firm transferred all areas of management to the second generation of leadership. With the additional equity available, the firm promoted several senior associates to partner status over the last three years. The firm also added several new associates, increasing the firm in size by 20 percent over the last four years. The firm is now well-positioned to serve existing clients and expand its client base even without the founders on hand.