The Outcome May Rest on Your Law Firm’s Action or Reaction
You are an executive or partner within a law firm. What are your immediate emotions when a fellow partner taking clients leaves your partnership for a competitor?
Disgust and anger?
Shock and surprise?
Respect and regard?
All of these emotions are understandable. But how you react or respond determines in some ways how this situation plays out.
Law partner movement and departures are common in the US, the current law firm industry, and allowable based on the client’s right to choose counsel and the attorney’s right to change firms. The Sixth Amendment protects the client’s right to retain counsel of their choosing. The individual’s right to ask for, and to receive, legal advice from the lawyer of his/her choice is protected under the First Amendment. The attorney’s right to change law firms is supported by the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Yet law firms that “react” negatively can tarnish their brand via in the following ways:
Perception of Being “Unlawyerly”
Negative reaction sends a message to current and future clients that the firm is not anticipating current law firm marketplace trends. So why would the firm then be able to anticipate the client’s needs? Reactions in general are perceived as unprofessional and in essence are “unlawyerly conduct”. Lawyers are trained and paid to be prepared for any possible outcome. A negative reaction therefore affects law firm brand and leadership negatively.
Law partners are independent and they like degrees of autonomy within their law firm. When a law firm reacts negatively or by micromanaging, it sends a signal to current and future partners. Future lateral partners, current partners and eventual promoted attorneys to partners might second guess their plans and continued loyalty with the firm. Law firms that live with an old school mindset are living in denial of the evolving legal industry. Denial in leadership is like cancer; it tends to creep up on you until its too late.
A client will hire your firm to win a big case or navigate through a sticky merger that draws antitrust scrutiny. If success is achieved, this experience creates good will and potential future client engagements. But in the end the client has the right to choose counsel. Did the client choose the departing partner or other partners still present within your firm? Ultimately when a law firm draws a client into litigation over a departing law partner this creates the negative message: “We own the right to represent you”. This premise does not hold water in court and clients do not like it.
A law firm brand is a perception, and this perception matters to your most important relationships. Those relationships are the people inside your law firm, your clients and your future attorneys. It is these relationships that determine the value of your law firm. How your firm responds to a lateral partner departure can add or take away from the equity of your brand.
In following article, How to Protect Your Law Firm’s Competitive Advantage, I outline a pre-emptive approach that law firm leaders can customize and implement. Creating a culture that anticipates and stewards lateral partner departures will strengthen brand equity, stabilize a professional service business environment and potentially create a competitive advantage over other law firms.
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Follows us on Twitter @FindtheLions and @ChrisBatz On LinkedIn Chris Batz and The Lion Group
Learn more about Lateral Moves in Chris Batz’s Lateral Moves: A Guide for Partners & Law Fims on Amazon
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