What is “retaining talent” really? Who does the concept apply to? Only “newbie” lawyers? Not so fast.
I write and speak a lot about retaining talent and value, and the Best Friends at the Bar project was founded on that concept. It is all about law firms and other law employers knowing how to retain talent and value to improve and protect the professional futures of lawyers, the future of law firms, and the future of best practices in the profession.
But, I always have approached the concept of retaining talent and protecting value with an eye toward the young lawyers in practice, particularly the young women lawyers. It is the young women lawyers who are the focus of the Best Friends at the Bar project, and that has not changed. However, retaining talent and protecting value is about more than young talent and value. It also applies at the other end of the spectrum. I have been thinking a lot about this as some of my law firm friends approach the sunsets of their careers, and my thoughts on it were validated by this recent article on a law blog.
Here’s the argument. Retaining talent and protecting value also can be applied to lawyers late in their careers. As a result, it may not be such a good idea for law firms to have age-based mandatory retirement policies. Retaining the talent and value that falls victim to those arbitrary policies can affect law firm succession plans and can deprive young lawyers of talented mentors.
Succession plans are a subject of my new book. In Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, which will be released in July, I discuss the effect on law firm succession plans of losing talent at the mid-levels of law firms. With so many Baby Boomer lawyers retiring in the next few years, succession plans are at risk unless the talent in the middle of law firms is strong. So, as the article points out, does it really make sense to force senior talent out of the firms under these circumstances? It is the senior lawyers who have the institutional memories and the professional and business acumen that is the result of years and years of practice and experience. That kind of value should not be taken lightly as law firm managers ponder the future success of their firms. Enough of the senior talent will leave voluntarily without pushing everyone out the door.
And there is definitely something in it for you, the junior lawyers. Senior talent teaches junior lawyers how to practice law. It is an established fact that law schools fall short in teaching practical skills, and today law firm clients are refusing to pay for the learning curves of junior lawyers. The senior lawyers can fill that void — if law firms are wise enough to let them. It is true that not all senior lawyers are good teachers, but it would be worthwhile to find out which ones are and keep them around to help turn green newbie lawyers into seasoned practitioners.
Think about it. It is a new twist on retaining talent and value, and it makes sense to me. Arbitrary rules generally lead to bad results, and it does not have to be that way. There is just too much to lose.
What do you think?