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Momentum is only starting to build.

Expect 15% to 20% of law firm leaders to step down over the next 2 years. It may be the most overlooked trend to hit the legal community.

Based on the survey my longtime friend and collaborator, internationally recognized law firm consultant Patrick McKenna, and I conducted with more than 250 law firm leaders. Here is how many are happy and how many are not:

1/3 of law firm leaders love their job. It may not be for everyone but it’s for them. They love:
    • The challenge
    • Leading the strategy
    • Making a meaningful impact
    • Bringing in the right talent
    • Developing leaders
    • And most importantly — watching success unfold

The best aspects of the role suggest these leaders are working with highly engaged partners. They see tangible evidence of the results of their efforts.

36% like it — it’s a good gig. They talk about:
    • Intellectual challenges posed
    • Making enduring improvements
    • Talent development
    • Recruiting talent
    • Driving success
But the offsets include:
    • Being underappreciated
    • Minimal feedback
    • Few clear performance benchmarks
    • Relitigating the same issues over time
    • Lack of widespread partner engagement

The leaders believe they are pushing the firms along with less help from the partners than they expected — or want. There is less engagement. But the role is still rewarding.

Another 31% don’t like it all that much. But even here, there are a few rewards. These leaders talk about:
    • Implementing successful programs and initiatives
    • Having achieved success and goals
    • Observing the fruits of their labor
But they also point out:
    • The role demands new energy
    • They have reached their personal goals
    • It’s time for a break or a personal change
    • Few partners want the leadership role — creating a sense of obligation to stay in the role
    • Material disagreement about strategy and direction — especially over mergers
    • Little appreciation for the role
    • Retirement beckons

No law firm leader would ever let their low job satisfaction get in the way of doing the right thing. And those who know they plan to step down may even find it easier to make the tough decisions partners may not like.

One common denominator across all 3 groups — law firm leaders are not well understood. It is hard to appreciate all the duties and responsibilities until you are on the inside looking out. It’s a stressor to some and an energy source for others — but they all feel it.

These law firm leaders’ roles change over time. This helps explain why the less-than-happy group is more tenured than the rest. It isn’t what it used to be.

The leadership role is a good analogy for the legal market and law firms — it isn’t what it used to be. It will change, throw curve balls, and present the unexpected. Some will love the market and change the trajectory of the market through innovation and bold strategic moves.

We are only at the beginning in terms of market changes. Embrace and love it for as long as you can — it could be a wild ride. Stay tuned.

Best in the market ahead –

The Mad Clientist

Patrick J. McKenna
McKenna Associates Inc.

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