Reboot Your Succession Planning for 2021 

By Jamy J. Sullivan, J.D., Executive Director, Robert Half Legal

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a game changer for many law firms, forcing them to sacrifice long-term strategy for short-term survival. Even firms that thrived in 2020 have found themselves recalibrating their plans to fit the new normal. 

Succession planning is a core element in any organization’s strategic thinking. And it’s even more critical now, when illness and economic uncertainty might tempt your senior leadership into early retirement or cause similar personnel shakeups. 

But is your succession planning fit for the new reality of a pandemic-stricken world? Here are five questions you need to ask — and answer — in early 2021. 

1. Have you checked in with succession candidates? 

The spread of COVID-19 has affected people in unpredictable ways. A Robert Half survey found that 57% of professionals have experienced a shift in their feelings about work, with a third saying they want to pursue a more meaningful or fulfilling position. 

In other words, some of your succession candidates may have changed their minds about their long-term options. 

Have an open and frank conversation with your potential leadership prospects about their future with the firm. If their goals have changed, you can look at ways to combine their aspirations with your succession requirements. Now is the time to reassess objectives so that you’re all working toward the same future. 

2. Has COVID-19 changed your team structure? 

The pandemic has changed the way we work, possibly for good. Employees have had to adapt to remote working, client meetings have moved online and the way we collaborate has become digital-first. And that’s on top of pre-COVID-19 law office trends, such as increased reliance on data analytics and artificial intelligence. 

Your firm’s structure may have changed drastically as a result, with greater emphasis on IT and data. Has this created new digital leadership roles in your organization or affected your current leaders’ responsibilities? If so, make sure your succession pipeline is producing people with the appropriate skills. 

3. Have you fallen behind on leadership development? 

Many training and professional development programs were placed on the back burner at many organizations in 2020, so it’s worth checking in with everyone to see if they’re on track to meet their development goals. If people need extra time to catch up, try to offer as much support as possible. 

Mentorship programs also may need to be revisited. During the pandemic, leadership candidates may not have been able to spend as much time in informal meetings with their mentors, which means they have missed valuable learning opportunities. Work with mentors and mentees to help them stay connected using digital communication tools. 

4. Are you meeting diversity and inclusion standards? 

2020 saw a timely and important conversation about diversity that will continue to have a real, long-lasting impact on businesses. At many firms, leadership is addressing succession plans and building an inclusive future. Does your team have diverse professionals who are ready to step into senior leadership roles? Are they receiving the support they need in order to be successful? What else can you do to help create a more inclusive senior team? 

5. Have you rebooted your talent identification strategy? 

We usually identify leadership candidates by watching them in action — how they deal with clients, how they delegate to colleagues, how they manage projects, how they communicate in meetings. All these things are changing in the age of hybrid teams and digital communication.  

Accordingly, you need a new strategy to identify leadership qualities in remote workers so promising candidates don’t fall through the cracks. Hold regular check-ins with everyone and try to recognize essential leadership qualities like vision, passion and adaptability. 

Your current leadership has helped you navigate the COVID-19 crisis. But there will be further challenges ahead, and you’ll need a new generation of leaders to help your firm succeed. Those new leaders are somewhere on your team right now, you just need to pinpoint and groom them.