Category Archives: Transition Plan

In a world of change and transition: Which way forward?

I had an article that appears this month in Bar Leader, published by ABA Publishing for the ABA Division for Bar Services. The publication covers news and issues of interest to elected officers and staff members at state, local, and special-focus bar associations. Bar Leader is available online to constituents of the ABA Division for Bar Services.

In a world of change and transition: Which way forward?

Volume 41 Number 2

By 

Stephen P. Gallagher has a master of science degree in organizational development and is a lawyer transition coach at his consulting firm, LeadershipCoach.us. Previously, he was director of law office economics and management—one of the first bar association PMA positions—at the New York State Bar Association. He also maintains a Facebook page on the topic of lawyers in transition. Gallagher wishes to thank solo lawyer and friend Leonard E. Sienko Jr. for reading a draft of this article and sharing his own insights.

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Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World

By Don Tapscott (McGraw Hill:NY) 2009.

Don Tapscott believes that the Net Generation processes information and behaves differently than older generations in aptitudes, attitudes, expectations, and learning styles that reflect the environment in which they were raised.   The Net Generation (post-Generation X) is parented by Baby Boomers and these generations differ on numerous levels, especially in ways they communicate and how they perform work.  Tapscott believes that “Net Geners” are smarter, quicker, and more tolerant than their predecessors.  He argues that “The Net Generation is in many ways the antithesis of the TV generation.”

According to Tapscott, there are four key themes of the “New Generation Gap”:

  • The older generations are uneasy about the new technology (which Net Geners are embracing).
  • Older generations tend to be uneasy about new media (which are coming into the heart of youth culture).
  • Old media are uneasy about the new media.
  • The digital revolution, unlike previous ones, is not controlled by only adults.

The Net Generation creates information rather than just consuming it.  The shift from broadcast to interactive is the cornerstone of the Net Generation.  They want to be users and not simply viewers or listeners.  While past generations subsisted with the telephone and television, the Net Generation has grown up with information technology.  They are well-versed in the Internet, e-mail, instant messaging, online communities, media (video and music) downloads, the use of cellular phones, and video games from the very beginning.

Tapscott identifies ten themes of Net Generation culture:

  • Fierce Independence
  • Emotional and Intellectual Openness
  • Inclusion
  • Free Expression and Strong Views
  • Innovation
  • Preoccupation with Maturity
  • Investigation
  • Immediacy
  • Sensitivity to Corporate Interest
  • Authentication and Trust

Characteristics of the Net Generation include being curious, independent, contrarian, intelligent, adaptable, confident, focused, and globally conscious.  The Net Generation is defined by their reliance on and use of technology, their penchant for multitasking technologically and their ability to utilize various media to communicate with the world.  These communication technologies are incredibly different from the ones that previous generations grew up with.  Previous generations have had to learn how to use technology, whereas the Net Generation was raised saturated in technology.  They don’t use it, it just simply is.

What are the Benefits of Coaching?

While coaching does involve teaching the right knowledge, coaching is also heavily process-focused; therefore, the benefits of coaching are in the arena of knowing the practical skill sets or information necessary for sound practice management as well as creating fundamental shifts in perspective, behavior and self-management that include:

  • Clarity of vision and focus
  • Follow-through on a specific leadership action plan
  • Specific action within a Coaching Program structure
  • Breakthroughs in attitudes, behavior, and achievement
  • Courage to take action and follow through on bold ideas
  • Smooth navigation through change
  • Creative problem solving and “out of the box” thinking
  • Specific business planning strategy and tactics
  • Alignment of decisions with core strengths and values

You will benefit from coaching if you have:

  • a goal of increasing income while reducing stress in your life.
  • a desire for moving your professional practice to the next level.
  • a feeling that you want to take charge of the rest of your life.
  • a dream that a successful legal practice can be a fulfilling experience.
  • a belief that you can reach your goals faster and with greater ease with the help of an advocate committed to your cause.

Why Hire an Executive Coach?

An experienced Executive Coach with proven expertise in working through life transitions that will help individuals acquire knowledge, motivation, and accountability necessary for achieving transition goals.

Executive Coaching is a unique relationship and process with a strategic partner who is committed to your personal and professional development. Stephen P. Gallagher is an executive coach with over 25-years of experience in working with attorneys in a variety of leadership roles. As your Executive Coach, I will:

  • help you and your firm adapt to change, build a sustainable profitable law firm and support you in achieving balance in your professional and personal life;
  • challenge and support you in attaining the results you desire and deserve in your business, career, and personal life;
  • help you clarify and focus on living life with purpose, passion and integrity;
  • support your behaviors that forward action and progress toward your desired outcomes; and
  • serve as consultant and practice management mentor, offering specific advice about business, leadership, communication, strategy, and maintaining life balance.

    Women's Peloton at Curve off Main 2010
    Manayunk Peloton Main Street turn

Sole Practitioners’ Challenges in Moving Away from Full-Time Practice

My purpose in writing this blog is to highlight many issues that lawyers need to be address in winding-down a law practice. I hope to give readers a better appreciation for the scope and breadth of transition planning as it relates to end-of-career issues. This blog is not necessarily a “how-to” template or a “do-it-yourself” manual for structuring law firm retirement and transition planning. I do hope to provide more detailed instructions for sole practitioners in closing down a practice. This is a too important topic to be left to chance. The hope to build a playbook of best practices for mid-level and more senior attorneys looking for advice and support in transitioning away from full-time law practice.

There are literally thousands of self-help books on finding happiness in retirement. I will be referencing some of these resources throughout my writings, but unfortunately, I have not found any books that address what I see as the somewhat unique needs of lawyers in private practice, and sole practitioners in particular. I hope I will be able to help you develop your own transition/retirement plan.

As most experienced lawyers already well know, the practice of law has become increasingly challenging both professionally and personally. My personal experiences over the past thirty years leaves me to believe that sole practitioners are facing even greater challenges then other lawyers who practice together. The smaller the law firm the greater the challenges to survive and thrive. Studies have shown that lawyers are increasingly dissatisfied with their chosen profession.[1] Sole practitioners and lawyers in small firm practice are not immune to bouts with lawyer depression, stress related physical ailments, alcoholism, drug use, and other self-destructive behaviors and ills. Research is showing that these ills are increasing within the profession at a steady pace.[2] It appears to be a good time to begin planning for a transition away from a full-time practice.

The same ABA survey that showed that 68% of bar membership practiced in solo and small firm settings,[3] asked members whether they had a plan in place to maintain their practice in case of death, disability or Bar discipline. Among those who responded to the survey, 59 percent said they did not have a plan should such a crisis prevent them from practicing law.[4] So, there are many lawyers in communities throughout the Country who need help in planning for life transitions, including those interested in moving away from full-time practice.

[1] See you Patrick J Schiltz, On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession, 52 Vanderbilt Law Review: 871, 882 (1999). (For almost 30 years, the University of Michigan law school has been surveying its former students five years after they graduated. The percentage of graduates working as solo practitioners or in firms of fifty or fewer lawyers who were “quite satisfied” with careers five years after graduation fell from 45% for members the classes of 1976 and 1977 to 37% for members of the class of 1990 and 1991.)

[2] See Ted David, Can Lawyers Learn to Be Happy? The Practical Lawyer (August 2001), available at https://www.lawlytics.com/blog/can-lawyers-be-happy/. Out of 105 professions, according to a Johns Hopkins University study, lawyers top the list for major depression. Lawyers are depressed at a rate 3.4 times higher than employed persons generally substance-abuse for lawyers is double the national level.

[3] ABA Press Release, ABA Services Solo and Small Firm Lawyers with New Online Resource Center (1/19/2012) Is available at http://www.americanbar.org/portals/solo_home/solo_home.html. P. 203.

[4] ABA Press Release, ABA Services Solo and Small Firm Lawyers with New Online Resource Center (1/19/2012) Is available at http://www.americanbar.org/portals/solo_home/solo_home.html. P. 203.

“FOR SOLE PRACTITIONERS, THE FUTURE’S NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE”

By Stephen P. Gallagher and Leonard E. Sienko, Jr.

The New York State Bar invited Steve Gallagher and Lenny Sienko to update their 2004 article for the Journal, “Yesterday’s Strategies Rarely Answer Tomorrows Problems,” [1] about new market challenges facing the legal profession. In the 11 years since, much has changed, especially for solo and small firm practitioners. The co-authors speak with two distinct and complementary voices – Steve discusses current trends and strategies, while Lenny gives practical tips and tricks and talks about the nitty-gritty of being a solo practitioner. This article appeared in the New York State Bar Journal in December, 2015.

2004 – Competing for the Future

Steve Gallagher: At the time we wrote the article “Yesterday’s Strategies,” Lenny was a member of NYSBA’s Electronic Communications Task Force (ECTF) along with current bar president, David Miranda. I was liaison to this task force, so we have been following trends in the profession for quite some time.

Lenny Sienko: OMG I feel old. We actually first worked together on the NYLaw Net Committee in 1993. Steve arranged a visit to Cornell Law School to talk to the folks responsible for the Legal Information Institute. We all came back enthused about “value added” to information available in the public domain. Our next meeting was at the NYSBA Bar Center on Elk Street, when we raised the idea of NYSBA posting a web page online. There were some chuckles; but the “powers-that-be” agreed to a trial run. Twenty-two years later, the NYSBA website is an enormous enterprise and the main repository of our member benefits.

SG: Back around that same time, Richard Susskind, the highly regarded British legal technology expert, was just beginning to write about the potential of the Internet disrupting legal practice. It was in his book The Future of Law: Facing the Challenges of Information Technology[2] that Susskind predicted, “Law will be gradually transformed from an advisory service to an information service as lawyers package their conventional work product in electronic form.”

LS: Susskind thought “tomorrow’s lawyer” would be forced to drop bespoke work and start treating legal work as a commodity. In my practice I have attempted to satisfy clients by customizing my representation even more – not less. I’d be afraid to call myself a “concierge lawyer,” but that is basically what I do these days (and nights). I am available 24/7 via email and cell phone. The client speaks to me – not a secretary or paralegal. Who can afford staff? Clients have each question answered by “their attorney,” who can make virtual or actual house calls.

For clients from the New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area, who want to purchase second or vacation homes along the upper Delaware River, I have appointments on Saturdays, Sundays, or evenings. I can answer their questions by email from home in the evening.

SG: Our 2004 article built on Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad’s best seller Competing for the Future, a 1994 Harvard Business School Press publication that identified two critical choices the profession needed to make: either wait to see what happens to demand for traditional legal services, or anticipate the changes certain to affect the future and act now to shape the direction of these new services. In the past 11 years, however, the profession in general seems to have taken little action to shape new services, although emerging technologies in the hands of innovative sole practitioners and small firms are being seen as new ways to preserve and even expand ranges of legal services.

During this same period of time, we have gained even greater respect for Richard Susskind’s message, but Lenny and I still have faith in the profession doing more to work with clients who are demanding more creative and pro-active lawyering, by coming up with new ways of thinking about legal solutions and focusing on reducing rising legal costs.

LS: I guess you could call email an “emerged” technology. Many may think email past its prime, in some ways more of an annoyance than a tool. However, email rules in my work flow. My day is structured around emails received and my responses. The idea of a dictated, typed letter, stamped, metered, and sent through the U.S. Postal Service, makes me shudder at the time and expense involved. I can’t afford the additional costs involved with sending a letter. Even the larger firms I interact with send the bulk of their correspondence via email, having paid a graphic designer to fit their letterhead onto an email message blank or attaching a pdf version of their “letter.”

Continuing with my ode to email, one of my most prudent investments has been a searchable email database program. All emails are automatically saved and searchable, which allows me to confirm requests made by clients, check on advice given by me, and to deny assertions of opposing counsel with faulty memories. The email database has helped me “remind” other offices that I really did send a digital version of the abstract and prior title policy more than a month ago.

2014 and 2015 Law Firm Transition Surveys

SG: A large majority of law firm leaders who responded to a recently published Altman Weil Law Firm Transition Survey agreed that greater price competition, practice efficiency, commoditization of legal work, competition from nontraditional service providers, and non-hourly billing are all permanent changes in the legal landscape. For the most part, these are changes that have been imposed upon the profession from more demanding clients and more competitive newcomers who are challenging the rules of legal service delivery. We can only expect these changes in the landscape to continue.

When asked about the most likely change agent in the legal market over the next 10 years, Altman Weil’s 2014 Law Firm Transition Survey found, “34% of their large firm leaders identified corporate law departments as the force most likely to lead change; 32% chose technology innovation; and, 15% selected non-law-firm providers of legal services. Only 10% of respondents believe that law firms will take the lead in reinventing the legal market.” It is important to note that Altman Weil surveys have never attempted to track trends with solo and small firm practitioners. I suspect that sole practitioners throughout the state are much more concerned about keeping up with technology innovation and new threats from non-law-firm providers of legal services as the forces that will have the greatest impact on them. In fact, we believe, your future success is directly tied to your effective use of technology. To believe recent and future advances in information technology can be ignored is increasingly foolish and shortsighted.

LS: I’m still convinced that email is the innovation that we take too much for granted. It has brought about a paradigm shift in dealing with clients economically, efficiently, and effectively. After a few costly lessons, I have decided that I will no longer accept clients who do not have email (at least not without charging a substantial premium for another type of “bespoke” service) It is not cost effective to waste time playing “telephone tag” or sending out hard copies of draft documents. My real estate transactions now consist entirely of digital versions of documents being exchanged, right up to the actual closing, at which the final and only printed-out hard copies are signed and handed over to the title closer for recording.

Draft wills are now sent to clients for review as PDF attachments, electronically watermarked as “Draft.” Contracts of all types are handled in a similar fashion, utilizing counterpart execution. (Electronic signatures are taking a bit longer to become the norm.)

Everything on paper is being scanned in and, most of the paper so scanned is marked “scanned” and stored. I can’t yet bring myself to discard all such paper, even with multiple cloud back up services. I have BackBlaze and DropBox in the cloud, and a Bankers Box in the storage vault in the basement.

SG: What stood out to us most in the Altman Weil surveys was the belief that, “[o]nly 10% of respondents believe that law firms will take the lead in reinventing the legal market.” This suggests that these challenges to the rules of legal service delivery will be imposed by forces outside the profession. This left us with a sinking feeling that the profession was still focusing on rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic just prior to striking the iceberg that would ultimately lead to her sinking.

LS: “ICEBERG SIGHTED!” I know we make fun of lawyers – for example, some of us are still using quill pens. However, no solo or small firm can long survive these days without dealing with technology. Solos, especially, are confronted with a kind of legal “social Darwinism.” If we don’t use the best technology available, the other lawyer will – to our disadvantage. The question is whether we will be reactive and thus off balance or proactive, trying to anticipate the “next big thing.” Do you still have a fax machine? That’s my personal litmus test for determining lawyerly tech levels. Never had one in the office. Never needed it! I have used eFax for nearly 20 years. Voicemail? Does your voicemail turn your message into an email attachment and send it to you? It can, easily. How often do you update your office desktop computers? Do you still even use desktops? I just replaced my main iMac. It lasted six years. That’s about twice the average useful life for a personal computer. One of the reasons I have always used Macs in the office is their longer life. They cost more; but they can be in service twice as long. If you don’t take the time to keep up with office tech, you will feel it in your bottom line.

2015 Report on the State of the Legal Market

SG: Another trends survey that hit home with us recently was the Georgetown University Law Center’s, 2015 Report on the State of the Legal Market.[3] According to this survey, over the past 10 years business spending on legal services fell from $159.4 billion to $118.3 billion, a precipitous drop of 25.8%.[4] This survey seemed to express equal concern over non-law-firm providers of legal services. “While the overall impact of such expanded competition remains fairly modest today, it is growing at a steady pace and, over time promises to be even more disruptive to the near monopoly previously enjoyed by law firms in the legal services market.”[5] The sole practitioners agree that we now see competition from non-law-firm providers as a much more immediate threat.

LS: I, for one, welcome our new non-law-firm overlords. Ten years ago I was afraid that automated, online services would entice my clients away. Now I say: let them have the “time wasters,” the C and D level clients, while I concentrate on the A and B clients. The DIY clients who buy their wills online should not be my intended client base. For the first 35 years of my practice, I suffered from the “be all things to all clients” syndrome common among solos. I thought I’d fall behind, that I’d fail if I didn’t try to take everyone who came through the door. Client selection was nice theory, something I had heard about in my first NYSBA CLE on starting my own practice back in 1978, but I had never really believed in it until recently. Now I see clients “by appointment” and mean it. Family responsibilities, as care-giver for my parents before they passed away, forced me to change my schedule. I dropped morning appointments and came in at noon. I found that I could work more efficiently and quickly, in a shorter period of time at the office and later at home. I just needed the courage to say “No” to clients, who would be more economically served by those online companies or lawyers who believed in “law as a commodity.”

SG: Georgetown’s findings also showed that law firm leaders identified “an ‘astonishing lack of urgency’ on behalf of partners in moving on vital issues like client demands for improved practice efficiency and changing the way firms deliver and price legal work.” That supports Altman Weil’s findings that law firm leadership knows that legal work will continue to slip away, and there is nothing that can be done to change this erosion in market share. With this type of thinking, the legal profession can become its own worst enemy!

LS: As a solo, I am not as threatened by these client demands as the larger firms might be. Over the years, I have been through “boom and bust” cycles, especially in real estate practice. I started out in 1978 typing my own letters and pleadings, using carbon paper. I couldn’t afford a secretary. When I hired my first wonderful legal secretary, I thought I’d made it. Over the years, I employed a handful of extraordinary people who made practice and life easier in some ways, more complicated in others. When I reduced my hours after a heart attack and, subsequently, caring for my parents, I didn’t have work for a secretary. Now that I’m back full time, I type my own letters, use my voicemail/email setup, and scan in every piece of paper. I’ve come full circle, survived. That’s better than many large firms I can think of.

It says volumes about what we used to refer to as a “learned profession” that, at least in my case, my measure of success is not money, awards, or other recognition, but the fact that I have survived 37 years as a sole practitioner in rural, upstate New York.

Reimagining the Future of the Legal Profession

SG: The Relevant Lawyer: Reimagining the Future of the Legal Profession[6] is a new book published by the ABA Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility. This book is by a powerful collection of independent voices who share an abiding concern about the future path of the legal profession. Frederic S. Ury, chair of the standing committee writes, “The time is now for leaders in the legal profession to join the dialogue on – and thus be able to influence – how legal services will be delivered over the next 5 to 10 years, and what roles lawyers, judges, and the courts will play in the delivery of those legal services. All signs point to a need for bold action by the bar and its members to stake a claim in the new global economy of fading borders where technology equals power.”[7]

Fred Ury goes on to say, “The legal profession’s unwillingness to engage in a discussion about difficult and controversial subjects, such as nonlawyer ownership, the inability of much of the population to afford legal representation, and the rapidly changing landscape, has resulted in other legal service providers filling the void.”[8]

LS: Mr. Ury’s on the right track, but the time for discussion is waning. Lawyers can’t spend too much time sitting around discussing disruptive technology. The changes will come. We cannot stop them. We have to adapt or die.

When I first opened my office, one of the first people through my door was my legal supply salesperson. John told me what I needed for forms, “bluebackers,” legal pads, stationery, everything I had to have to practice. John also offered easy credit terms. I could open an account with him and take more than 30 days to pay. I appreciated John’s confidence in me and bought everything I needed from him for the next 10 years, until John retired. I still have boxes of engraved stationery and pads of forms I’ll never use up. Today I create my own stationery using a laser printer I bought for under $200. That’s less than I paid for a single box of the old letterhead.

Most of us are not in a position to individually influence great shifts in the practice of our profession, if it still can be called that. We can only attempt to surf on the wave and try to keep our heads above water. If I need a New York real estate form, I can download it for free from Judicial Title. They have a discrete logo on every form. Somebody at that firm is a marketing genius. I can find other forms through Google.

SG: What excites us about Reimagining the Future of the Legal Profession is the recognition of three latent markets that are severely underserved by the legal profession today: (1) low- and moderate-income clients who go without the representation they need in civil matters approximately 80% of the time (note that moderate-income families are not the working poor – they are a family of four making $94,000); (2) middle-income clients, 50% of whom, it is estimated, go without the representation they need; and (3) people who did not realize they have a legal problem and who sought assistance through nonlegal agencies or resources.[9] When a person can only afford to pay a few hundred dollars for legal services and not several thousand, the lawyer will have few options – primarily, to either cease doing that kind of work or figure out a way of doing it profitably at a reduced rate.

LS: I agree with both the analysis here and the conclusion. Those lawyers who come after my generation will have to decide if they are going to serve these underserved groups and if they can make a living doing so. I have neither the inclination nor the energy to serve these groups in volume. I’m a custom woodworker doing one beautiful oak cabinet a week – not an assembly line turning out 100 particle board nightstands.

Sole Practitioners and New Market Strategies

SG: The legal services gap has been identified in a growing number of studies as one in which only about 15% to 20% of potential legal service opportunities are met by lawyers, with the other 80% to 85% going either unmet or unrecognized altogether. It is this latter 80% to 85% of the total market that new providers seek to tap. This is the same group that will present new opportunities to lawyers willing to break out of these comfort zones to explore new personal and professional networks in creative ways. I wanted to make one last reference, this time to the theory of ”disruptive innovation,” a phrase first coined by Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, published back in 1997. The theory explains the phenomenon by which an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost are the status quo. Disruptive innovations are not breakthrough technologies that make good products better; rather they are innovations that make products and services more accessible and affordable, thereby making them available to a much larger population.

LS: With apologies to Professor Christensen, a “disruptive” technology is one which affects me and my business/profession adversely, at least at the outset. Non-disruptive technology happens to other folks.

For the first 15 years of my practice I was visited monthly by my legal bookseller’s representative. He often told me that my estate would make the last payment. He was wrong. After spending nearly six figures to maintain a complete law library because I was some 40 miles from the Supreme Court Law Library at the county seat, I bought my last set, my last pocket part, my last citator. These were all unaffordable. There was a long hiatus when I had a part-time position with the court system so I used a distant library; but these last few years, I have full-text cases and up-to the-minute citations through Google Scholar. Google is disruptive to the legal booksellers. To me it saves the thousands of dollars I spent annually with them.

SG: It is estimated that approximately 6% of solos and small law firms use a secure client portal to communicate and collaborate with their clients and deliver other legal services online. “Virtual law practice” is still in its early stages of adoption by the legal profession. The public is already beginning to see virtual law practices where a third party provides a website that connects clients with law firms. The third-party creates a website that is market-facing and attracts consumers who can become clients of the law firms linked to that company’s website. These consumer-facing websites often target specific legal needs, such as estate planning, start-up companies, or divorce law. Could this type of innovation make products and services more accessible and affordable, thereby making them available to a much larger population? Is there any reason that bar associations should not be building their own “branded networks”? An example of this type of hybrid service is DirectLawConnect, which promotes itself as a marketplace of online law firms that offer fixed-fee legal services over the Internet at reasonable and affordable fees.

LS: Despite my fascination with technology over the years, I have not yet participated in this ingenious hybrid. Even if they do their level best to comply with rules of professional conduct, I have difficulty accepting the concept of “unbundled services.” I want to offer complete representation – not leaving anything undone. I want to supply a finished cabinet without any “assembly required.” Perhaps, this is an opportunity for the independently licensed paralegal?

Bar Associations in Transition

SG: The first time I heard about “approaching the practice of law differently” was years ago from David H. Maister, one of the first widely known academic/practitioners who focused on law firm culture, leadership and the need for a new paradigm for the practice of law.[10]

We believe that few law firms will be able to create the future single-handedly. Bar associations hold the key to forming coalitions and alliances to help shape the future. If it is true that only about 15% to 20% of potential legal service opportunities are met by lawyers, with the other 80% to 85% going either unmet or unrecognized altogether, bar associations, with a shared vision of the future, need to help members understand and respond to what’s happening now, so lawyers can learn to be better, faster learners from what just happened. That is the only way bar associations will be able to have an impact on these permanent changes in the legal landscape.

Should bar associations be in the business of providing legal information websites offering direct-to-consumer, low-cost legal solutions to compete with such vendors as http://www.completecase.com, http://www.LegalZoom.com, and http://www.selfdivorce.com; or should bar associations and their sections get involved in developing “branded networks” that can offer individual members an efficient way to market their services through the company or bar association’s website?

Could bar associations do more to introduce young law graduates to my friend, Lenny Sienko and his community of seasoned lawyers who have been serving the public over the past 30-plus years? I suspect that many senior lawyers are not looking to fade away. At the same time, young lawyers need to find their own safe harbors to prepare for their own career and life transitions. The need for more flexible and accommodating work options affects not only those who are approaching traditional retirement, but younger women and men who don’t fit inside the box or want to work within the traditional partnership pyramid.

LS: When I opened my office in 1978, in the days before the individual assignment system, we answered calendar call on Monday mornings, and I was fortunate to have a colleague invite me to “Monday lunch” at the county seat. It was an education to sit in the courtroom and hear other, more experienced lawyers argue their cases. After your case was called, many remained to visit the County Clerk’s office to search titles; I’d visit the DA’s office to plea bargain cases. Lunch would see us all assembled in one small restaurant with the tables pushed together. It was our version of “The Inns of Court.” Questions were freely asked and answered by young and old. Legal news and gossip was flowing. Political arguments broke out. More cases were bargained and settled. The DA, County Attorney, Social Services Attorney were all there. The members of this group were my mentors. As years passed, I invited new lawyers to lunch. Those who came seemed to do better than those who stood aside. We closed half a dozen different restaurants; but kept going. Of late, death, disability, and the loss of the “calendar call” on Mondays have done in our group, but I see vestiges of its essence in the popularity of NYSBA’s listserves.

The listserves have been around since the mid 1990s, but now I see them taking on the role that was previously served by functions such as my Monday lunch group. Referrals get made, forms are exchanged, mentoring is rampant, we are snarky and prickly, confident and insecure. Many of the discussions sound familiar.

I was recently reminded of how important even this virtual interaction can be when NYSBA staff announced that the listserves would be migrated to a new “Communities” function. The old listserve software had been “orphaned,” and the staffer who kludged it along had retired. The General Practice Section’s 2,000 listserve members were advised of the changeover. Their rapid reaction with many questions and complaints illustrated to me the importance of what happens on the listserve. It was clear that no one wanted to see this service and the interactions it made possible diminished or limited in any way. It was/is an important link for its users.

SG: As Boomers like Lenny and me move closer to retirement, we often seek a greater sense of fulfillment, our own sense of purpose and meaning. The idea of a more flexible retirement option would allow not only partial retirement, so that senior lawyers can enjoy other pursuits, but also active retirement, wherein seniors can remain productively and socially engaged in the workplace, while helping young lawyers gain skills and knowledge in serving clients in new ways.

LS: I think we need some thinking “outside the box” when it comes to recruiting new solos. It’s very difficult to sell a solo law practice because it’s so hard to put a valuation on it. It’s easy enough to value the real estate and office furnishings; but what is the practice worth? Who’s going to pay to haul those worthless, old law books away?

If a young lawyer would like to buy my practice, my building, I’d be glad to sell; but how do they finance the purchase? Perhaps NYSBA could pick up an affinity partner to provide such finance at favorable rates as it does now with professional liability insurance? It’s worth asking the newer, younger members if such financing would be a member benefit they would use.

SG: According to NYSBA member data, Baby Boomers are approximately 55% of the New York State Bar, and over the next 10 or 20 years, most will be exiting the profession. If the “astonishing lack of urgency on behalf of partners is allowed to continue, the current law firm business model will surely continue to lose ground to even more nontraditional service providers.

We closed our 2004 article with a statement from Hamel and Prahalad’s Competing for the Future. It seems just as appropriate today:

Squeezing another penny out of costs, getting a product to market a few weeks earlier, responding to customer inquiries a little bit faster, ratcheting quality up one more notch, capturing another point of market share, tweaking the organization one additional time – these are the obsessions of managers today. But pursuing incremental advantage while rivals are fundamentally reinventing the industrial landscape is akin to fiddling while Rome burns.

[1] Stephen P. Gallagher & Leonard E. Sienko, Jr., Yesterday’s Strategies Rarely Answer Tomorrow’s Problems, N.Y. St. B.J. (Sept. 2004) p. 40. (LS: Oh no, not another Bar Journal article with footnotes! Footnotes don’t pay the rent for the solo practitioner or small firm. Let’s see if we can, together, offer some practical observations.)

[2] Richard E. Susskind, The Future of Law: Facing the Challenges of Information Technology 46 (Clarendon Press 1996).

[3] Georgetown University Law Center, Center for the Study of the Legal Profession, 2015 Report on the State of the Legal Market.

[4] Id.,  p. 7; Aric Press, Big Law’s Reality Check, Am. Law. (Nov. 2014), p. 41.

[5]2015 Report on the State of the Legal Market, supra note 4, p. 10.

[6] Paul A. Haskins, Editor, The Relevant Lawyer: Reimagining the Future of the Legal Profession 27 (American Bar Ass’n 2015).

[7]Id. p. 5.

[8] Id. p. 6.

[9] Id., p. 26.

[10] Culture in any organization is the system of beliefs that members share about the goals and values that are important to them and about the behavior that is appropriate to attain those goals and live those values.

Revised Strategy for Retirement/Transition Planning

Law firms throughout the country are struggling to find the balance to keep key people at every stage of development. We talked previously about how retirement should seen as a period of time when senior lawyers can experience new growth opportunities for themselves, their loved ones, and properly handled, this planning process should benefit the broader law firm community in many other ways.

Manayunk Peloton Main Street turn
Manayunk Peloton Main Street turn

The same senior lawyers that many law firms are now looking to sunset may become the untapped resources firms will need to lead the talent pool of the future?

Today, we are facing a shortage, not a surplus of talented lawyers, so law firms must begin to phase out “retirement” as we know it. As a replacement, law firms need to explore how a staged reduction in work hours and responsibilities ahead of full retirement might work. The same must be said for young people entering the profession. Our panelists agreed that no amount of money will be enough to keep talented young people from “jumping-ship” unless firms begin to address their needs and their concerns.

In my experiences with senior lawyers over the years, senior lawyers or pre-retirees are clearly not looking to fade away. They want to find fulfilling activities. They want enriching endeavors. Certainly they want to leisure… at times, and they naturally want to have fun. But, contrary to the popular media view of retirement, the most important thing lawyers anticipating retirement are looking for is their own fulfillment…their own sense of purpose and meaning. The idea of a more flexible retirement option, would allow not only partial retirement, so that senior lawyers can enjoy other pursuits, but also active retirement, wherein seniors can remain productively and socially engaged in the workplace. Going to a more flexible retirement as well as more flexible work schedules for all lawyers will demonstrate a fundamental shift in the way lawyers of all ages live their lives.

“Managing Transition: Making the Most of Change”

William Bridges, author of “Managing Transition: Making the Most of Change” (New York: Perseus, 2003) defines Transition as the inner process through which people come to terms with a change. The process takes place over a period of time as they let go of the way things used to be and reorient themselves to the way that things are now. Transition management is based on the idea that the best way to get people through transition is to affirm their experience and to help them to deal with it.  In a law firm setting, managing transition means helping people to make that difficult process less painful and disruptive. Many law firms have been following the mistaken idea that the best way to get people through a transition is to deny that they are even in a transition.

William Bridges, Ph.D.
William Bridges, Ph.D.

Getting through this transition is not easy. Each individual will need to start where the transition itself starts: with letting go of the inner connections to the way things were. As we age, we will be faced with how we might cut back in full-time employment.  What are some of the things senior lawyers might have to let go of? Income will certainly be affected; definitely there may be a loss of intellectual challenge; possibly a loss of a group of colleagues and friends; a regular place to go every morning; the familiar way you have structured your time over many years. You also will be confronted with the possible lose of professional identity. These are some of the things that leaving the full-time practice of law will force the senior lawyer to think about losing. Continue reading “Managing Transition: Making the Most of Change”

Understanding the War for Talent – Aging of the Workforce

The aging of the workforce is something that the legal profession can no longer ignore. The legal marketplace has yet to feel the impact of the loss of massive numbers of baby boomers that will be leaving the profession. Over this same period of time, fewer and fewer “talented” young people are expected to enter the profession. Demographic and economic projections suggest that the shortage of workers will start soon and grow significantly.

Duomo de Milano
Duomo de Milano, Italy

The Employment Policy Foundation (EPF) estimates that 80 percent of the impending labor shortage will involve skills, not number of workers potentially available.[1] Within the next several years, this shift in age distribution will cause law firms to experience an unprecedented “brain drain,” unless dramatic steps are taken by law firm leadership to look for new approaches to attracting and retaining key people. This “War for Talent”[2] is only just beginning. Continue reading Understanding the War for Talent – Aging of the Workforce

Transition is a Life-long Process

Clare's spiritual advisersIn addition to coaching lawyers, Stephen is an adjunct faculty member in the Marketing department at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia as well as an adjunct in Professional Studies at Neumann University in Aston, PA.. As such Stephen has acquired a wide range of professional and life experiences that have proven to be of value in working with accomplished professionals.

Stephen believes that teaching young adults helps him gain a greater appreciation for the challenges high level attorneys are facing in trying to sustain and grow a law practices in these trying times especially while trying to maintain a balance between work and family responsibilities.

Stephen has written extensively in areas as diverse as The High Performance Lawyer, Yesterday’s Strategies Rarely Answer Tomorrow’s Problems, and Winding Down the Law Practice, and Planning for Retirement. He has designed and facilitated numerous bar association and law firm retreats dealing with the changing nature of law practice. The National Association of Bar Executives (NABE) published Stephen’s two part article on Bar Associations in Transition (Part 1Part 2).

High Performance – ABA New Model – May 2005

ABA – Gallagher-Rethinking