It is vital that professional services firms such as law firms make succession planning an integral process within their business which can be achieved by linking it to the firm’s overall business strategy. Leading a professional services firm requires a very different approach to providing a professional service. It is unfair to ask a candidate who has completely focused on client work for their entire career to take on a leadership role without any training or involvement in management roles in the firm, yet this often happens.It is very easy for a partner to be immersed in the operation of their own department. If that person then assumes a senior management role they come with only one perspective of the firm. The candidate may have no understanding or empathy with other parts of the organisation.The key for successful succession planning is to have an individual or a group of individuals with the skill sets and experience necessary who is ready to take over at the appropriate time.Best practice firms create specific, individualised development plans for such candidates. Potential leaders are involved in key projects either as team members or team leaders. Some firms will supplement this with formal management training.Allowing potential leaders to develop a wider role in the business enables them to develop an awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of other parts of the organisation, and the personalities involved.It is always necessary to monitor performance and delivery of potential leadership candidates. It is most often not the best lawyer or accountant who makes the best leader, but one with the best leadership skills.A leadership candidate will need a clear sense of:

  • where he or she wants to lead the firm to
  • what he or she should do and what should be delegated to others
  • how to listen to colleagues
  • how to build a consensus
  • how to execute decisions when reached.

No matter how good a practitioner the candidate may be, these skills are very different from a traditional lawyer’s role and therefore need to be developed and tested over a period of time.

The goal of any good succession plan is to get the right person in place for tomorrow’s job. The way to accomplish this is to get a match between the firm’s future needs and the aspirations of individuals.This article was written by Paul Wyse who is managing director of the Dublin office of Smith & Williamson and published by the Irish Times.  To view the full article,