By Susan Smith Blakely • June 12, 2019•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector
For more than a decade I have been urging law firms to retain and advance the talent of women lawyers. The three-book Best Friends at the Bar series has been my effort to spread those messages, and most recently I have expanded my work to include cautionary messages about ignoring and losing the talent of all young lawyers --- men and women alike --- in What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2018).
Those books and the hundreds of blogs and articles I have written and speeches I have given include discussions of the many reasons why our institutions must change to become more inclusive of young people, starting with "the right thing to do" (which is almost always overlooked as a compelling reason) and ending with the sacrifice of future leadership (which should raise huge red flags). Simply speaking, even if equity and fairness do not win out as arguments for change, the future of the profession should be cause for concern. You would think that would get some attention, but you may have to think again.
I admit to getting discouraged every time I see yet another article on these subjects. The most recent one appeared in Financial Times earlier this week, and you can read it here. It is a good article on the problem of leaking law firm talent in the UK, and it echoes what is going on this side of "The Pond." But ... you have heard it all before.
The article includes arguments like:
- Law firms need to reshape their cultures, moving away from "rigid" traditions and "excessive" hours so they can retain more women and attract millennial lawyers;
- The current shortage of talent needs to be addressed as increasing numbers of young lawyers abandon private practice; and
- More than one in five young lawyers have transitioned out of private practice to in-house positions.
The conclusion from what appears to be the continuing need for this article and so many like it is that current law firm leadership is tone deaf on the subjects. Current leadership is not willing to tackle law firm reform with the kinds of changes that address retention --- like workplace values, work-life balance, and billable hour requirements --- because doing that might impact client retention.
In other words, current law firm leadership too often cares more about money and power than anything else. And there is no question what comes out on top when development of future law firm leaders is in competition with the high demands of clients. Someone has to pay those big salaries at the top.
The careers of young lawyers and succession plans be damned. Current leadership won't be around to care.