So what am I hearing these days from firm leaders? It’s something along the lines of “. . . we have no trouble finding demand for our services- all practice groups are maxed out and then some! We are having trouble attracting, recruiting and retaining the right lawyers we need to do the client work. Over time of course we know the inverse will be true, but how do we deal with the here and now?” Recruited lawyers are responding to the inducement of money today because few law firms give them confidence about the prospects for career success tomorrow. Younger lawyers are eager to hear from their law firm, “We want each lawyer who walks through that door for the first time to become a partner, and we will do whatever it takes to help you build the competencies needed to contribute to our firm- your firm- as a partner-in-waiting . . . “ Younger lawyers however are hearing something different- “ . . . We are going to pay you a lot of money today; what tomorrow holds- who knows? . . .” How can law firms break the cycle of cynicism and mercenary transactionalism that now defines the relationship between law firm and recruited associate? Answer #1: Define, develop, promote and deliver a “signature” experience to your younger lawyers across their entire career at your firm- their firm. Answer #2: Document your signature career experience in a signature career experience “playbook” (“SCE Playbook”). Answer #3: Start building a credible history today of implementing SCE Playbook plays.
Delivering a signature career experience is not about slogans, tag lines and breezy conclusions (“Unlike other law firms, we really, really, really, really insist on excellence . . . “ or “ . . . we really, really, really, really partner with our clients . . . “). Rather, it is expressed through the firm managerial “plumbing” (processes, incentives, etc.) designed to help firm lawyers experience extraordinary career long success. These managerial inputs should be defined and documented in the SCE Playbook, an asset that explains the concrete evidence that undergirds the delivery of differentiated, intentional career-long support.
Many firms of course impressively develop their lawyers as great legal technicians over the course of their career at their firm; e.g., trial academies, structured mentoring, etc.- and these features certainly should be part of an SCE Playbook. However, many of these firms’ career experiences are not as “signature” as they otherwise could be because they speak little about supporting career long commercial success and delivering to their lawyers control over their careers.
So what kinds of things comprise your firm’s SCE Playbook? Just a few examples are descriptions of how your firm helps its lawyers to:
- Appreciate that prospect cultivation is a free-standing expertise that should be taught, learned and applied in a formal way so that your firm’s lawyers can be expected to build a practice rapidly- and that their firm delivers those competencies to them.
- Speak the language of business vs. “legalese,” thereby making it easier for lawyers to establish dialogue with business managers who serve as great entry points into new clients.
- Credibly deliver a unique relationship brokerage/mapping process new clients will experience from your firm so that you can make high value business introductions to new clients as soon as you begin working on their first matter.
- Serve as an outsourced legal tech innovation arm of client law departments by introducing them to new software applications that support the emerging legal operations function.
Note how the above examples are removed from “good lawyering” in and of itself, yet represent issues that give lawyers a differentiated leg up in the marketplace. Younger lawyers will give your firm credit today for helping them position themselves intelligently in the market as a “different-in-kind” legal resource instead of as a symbol of undifferentiated “me-tooism.” When fully built out, the SCE Playbook serves as an operational asset on which younger lawyers will rely to guide their careers. It will include descriptions and case study examples of all “plays” the firm will help each lawyer run at every stage of development.
Finally, for the “stuff” of signature career experience to be playbook worthy, you should ask, “Is the play or firm feature . . .”:
- Supported with process?
- Aligned – with your firm?
- Promoted – internally?
- Promoted – externally?
As you can see from the above checklist, breezy, undifferentiated “branding conclusions” won’t pass muster as Playbook elements; rather SCE Playbook features must include the specific business evidence that ensures the signature experience you deliver to all of your long-term lawyers is never an accident.
Now is the time to move the goalposts away from short-term compensation inducements and develop the plays lawyers will use to be successful over their entire career at your firm to become a partner-in-waiting; more specifically, develop and give them an SCE Playbook!