November 03, 2023
  • A wave of Big Law firm managing partners, CEOs and chairs are leaving their leadership roles following the pandemic crisis.
  • Opportunities are rich for firms to execute succession plans to lessen generational and financial challenges, legal industry consultants say.

After defying pandemic expectations of mass retirements, senior Big Law firm leaders have been enjoying extended runs at the top. But there’s evidence that a changing of the guard may be underway as a growing number of managing partners, chairs, and CEOs announce plans to step down.

. . .

The tendency of senior partners to groom successors who are copies of themselves rather than to foster lawyers who may be different also creates obstacles for attorneys who are women and diverse attorneys’ abilities to inherit client relationships and develop into leaders, said Roberta Liebenberg, a senior partner at Fine, Kaplan and Black in Philadelphia and a principal of the Red Bee consulting group, who co-authored a 2019 ABA study on why women lawyers leave Big Law practice.

“It is not really a shift if you simply pass the baton from one set of people with a certain set of experiences and background to another set of people with the same experiences and background. It is not in service to an organization or the people in it,” said Betsy Miller, a partner and former leader in the public client practice at Cohen Milstein in Washington, D.C., and an adjunct professor at Harvard Law School.

She added, “it is important to impose term limits on leadership so that new perspectives are always part of the mix; and it is equally important to give thought to what mix of skills and experiences are needed to make an executive committee.”

Also important: Transitioning senior partners to new roles or retirement to keep them from jumping to other firms with their clients— something that has become more common in recent years. At the same, firms must keep young potential leaders happy to ensure lateral hiring strength and retention.

Read Wave of Big Law Leader Exits Stokes Succession Concerns.