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Succession Strategy — Part Three — Alumni Programs Onward

Lawyer succession is fast becoming a critical component of every smart law firm and legal service provider’s business strategy.

My three-part series examines Succession Strategy in terms of culture, planning, and techniques as well as Alumni Programs that help retain ties and nurture goodwill with all former law firm colleagues.

A treasured lawyer-friend who is also a legacy client remarked that succession is “a complex but critical issue.” She is right, which is why each of the 12 topics within this series is impactful.

Publishing this series in three parts over the span of a month should enable time and space for you to reflect and formulate your own thoughts and consider how each topic may apply to you and/or your situation.

You may wish to review Succession Strategy: Part One — Mindset and Politics and Succession Strategy: Part Two — Planning and Transition.

This is Succession Strategy: Part Three — Alumni Programs Onward that covers:

  • Alumni programs keep talent engaged and connected
  • Alumni programs are a winning business strategy  
  • A strong network is the backbone of a robust alumni program.
  • Conclusion and putting it all together

My Succession Strategy series concludes here by examining why and how to combine Succession Strategy and Alumni Programs to create and realize maximum long-term value.

As a long-time student and participant in the global legal services market, I will be keen to learn your thoughts and experiences with respect to Succession Strategy and hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on this journey.

Succession Strategy — Part Three — Alumni Programs Onward

Alumni Programs Keep Talent Engaged and Connected

Gone are the days when talent of all descriptions would stay put at a law firm. Enforced loyalty – an attitude and behavior supporting a notion of “the firm before all” – that at one time was a point of pride in some law firms is finished.

Prior to the pandemic and much worse since, law firm partners, associates and legal service professionals of all stripes have been sloshing in a volatile job market. They have been trading one firm for another, setting up their own shops, going in-house, and changing industries to the point where one now needs a program to tell the players.

The pandemic taught many people that they alone are responsible for their happiness, health, and career. These people also learned that change can happen, regardless of whether it is a job-seekers market or not.

Now, and in years to come, law firms and legal service providers that buck that reality will lose dearly in terms of attracting and retaining strong talent.

They will also erode their brand in the legal market along with goodwill.

However, law firms and legal service providers that embrace our changed world of work, find a give-and-take balance, and build upon it in “people-first” fashion will be winners.

Alumni Programs are a Winning Business Strategy

Alumni programs along with embedding, secondments, cohort laddering, and cross-service teams are investments in people that pay enormous returns to law firms that have the vision, fortitude, and management skills to institute them.

Below is an outline of only some of the benefits of an Alumni Program for a law firm or legal service provider and its alumni, as well as notes pertaining to people data capture.

Benefits for the Firm/Provider

  • Business Development and Referrals: Emphasis on lawyers who have moved to in-house roles or law firms that can provide referrals and/or in-bound work.
  • Industry Knowledge: Alliances to former law firm members who have moved to industries outside of legal services and may be able to share industry-specific insights and perspectives.
  • Strategic partnerships: Helpful in cross-service teaming where the firm seeks to partner with familiar and like-minded outside talent on work that is best done when shared with external resources.
  • Sources for Outbound Work: Alums can be trusted to handle outbound work.
  • Networking: Staying in touch provides an opportunity to broaden connections and deepen relationships.
  • Direct Hiring: Recruiting costs are diminished due to alerting alumni to opportunities within the firm. Alums often returns – they are often referred to as “boomerangs,” which cuts recruiting expenses and onboarding/training time. If alums don’t return, they can recommend other strong talent.
  • Recruiting Tool: Prospective recruits are attracted to firms that value and maintain mutually beneficial relationships over the course of a career regardless of position and/or tenure.
  • Feedback: Former employees at all levels may provide constructive feedback to improve client services, internal procedures, and workplace satisfaction within the firm.
  • Goodwill: Those who depart a firm are more apt to have a positive impression, while current members will have advance knowledge that the end of their tenure is not necessarily the end of a professional relationship.

Benefits for Alumni

  • CPD: Free Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
  • Resource Access: Free access to information sources, databases, and tools that may not be readily available in their next role.
  • Networking: Invitations to firm-initiated webinars, events, job board, alumni directory, etc.
  • Privilege Extension: Continuation of appropriate firm-sponsored corporate discounts.

Data Capture

  • Incoming: Determination of information gleaned during the recruiting and on-boarding phases as well information to be kept and updated.
  • Outgoing: Exit interviews for lawyers and staff to plumb for positive, neutral, and negative lessons as well as probe for nuance.
  • Database: Gathering, updating, and housing this information in a robust Client Relationship Management (CRM) database is critical to retaining clean data and achieving program success.

A Strong Network is the Backbone of a Robust Alumni Program

No one knows your law firm like the people who have worked there. Valued former employees are your firm’s best ambassadors. Providing a forum for alumni in all roles and at all levels and enabling them to remain connected to a firm and each other signals that nurturing relationships with all employees is of value even when they are working elsewhere.

An Alumni Program based on a strong network is a smart business strategy to deploy from early recruiting to onboarding stages, and through to departure. People who leave to work or live elsewhere often continue to be assets for a firm. This level of investment in people provides huge returns when their former firm receives the first call that a business opportunity has arisen.

A strong network is even smarter business asset when a professional expresses interest in exploring opportunities not readily available within their law firm. This is especially relevant when considering that a 2017 NALP Update on Associate Attrition, suggested that the cost to replace an associate could range from $200,000USD to $500,000USD. Costs aside and to preserve a relationship, this is when astute management looks to its clients, alumni, and connections to ask if there is a need or role that could be a suitable fit and makes a match in a manner much like that of embedding law firm talent within a key client organization.

Inherently and because humans are social beings, we know the value of connections and strong networks. And this is why a continuous sense of belonging – even when people have moved on to other ventures and adventures – creates enormous goodwill along with opportunities and mechanisms to sustain relationships and further nurture mutual growth.

Conclusion and Putting it All Together

There is absolute and irrefutable truth behind “It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish”, and those words bring us full circle to where we began this discussion on Succession.

There will always be lawyers and other legal services practitioners who look forward to bringing their legal service career to a close and upon retirement, jump the gate with abandon. Still, there are many others who fret about who they will become and what they will do after cycling out of active service.

Providing time, space and planning as well as a graceful and soft landing goes a long way to easing the succession transition. This is equally important when, intellectually, an individual knows that retirement is on the horizon as well as coming to terms with this change physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Succession planning done well with two to five years of lead time will help prepare the lawyer, their workmates, family members, and clients to transition to a new work-life-relationship balance that is considerate and kind to the individual, and smart business for all concerned.

One of the easiest techniques for smooth succession and transition is an Alumni program. Membership is an Alumni program enables a graceful “next step” for those transitioning out of the firm while still retaining ties to it.

Keeping close people who know the firm inside and out, helps those who don’t whether they may be prospective clients or lateral talent. An Alumni program works as a club, if you will, and provides a connectiveness that attracts those who see value in it and seek involvement. The beauty of an Alumni program is that it instills a sense of community because for many of us, that’s what work is all about.

Putting the two together – Succession and Alumni – is like two sides of the same coin. Both hold value in their own right and together are worth their weight in gold.

[This is the third in a three-part series on Succession Strategy. You may wish to review Succession Strategy: Part One — Mindset and Politics and Succession Strategy: Part Two — Planning and Transition. The full chapter on Succession: Transition Strategies for Lawyers, Law Firms, and Clients appears in the book, Talent in the Legal Profession: How to Attract, Retain and Engage Top Talent published April 2024 by Globe Law and Business.]

Heather Suttie is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading authorities on legal market strategy and management of legal services firms.

For 25 years, she has advised leaders of premier law firms and legal service providers worldwide — Global to Solo | BigLaw to NewLaw — on innovative strategies pertaining to business, markets, management, and clients.

The result is accelerated performance achieved through a distinctive one of one legal market position and sustained competitive advantage leading to greater market share, revenue, and profits.

The effect is accomplishment of the prime objective — To Win.

Reach her at +1.416.964.9607 or

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