Book review: Managing Talent for Success: Talent Development in Law Firms (2nd edn)

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Managing Talent for Success: Talent Development in Law Firms (2nd edn)
Consulting Editor: Rebecca Normand-Hochman on behalf of the International Bar Association
Globe Law and Business

Stephen Bowman
Bennett Jones, Toronto, Ontario

Looked at from the outside, lawyers may appear to be individual experts. Alone, or close to it. Self-sufficient and self-reliant. The expert to be called upon for a particular task or project. A student attending a law faculty is not likely to be disabused of this perception. For many lawyers in private practice around the world, this is indeed the reality. But if you are reading this, you know that the success of your particular practice and your firm hinges on more than the mere accumulation of lawyers, each working away on their own client matters in isolation from the rest.

In the second edition of Managing Talent for Success: Talent Development in Law Firms, contributing editor Rebecca Normand-Hochman has brought together an outstanding group of lawyers and advisors with deep expertise and experience in the many facets of talent management in law firms. Through their collective efforts Globe Law and Business (www.globelawandbusiness.com) has produced in this one volume both expansive overviews of the various facets of talent management as well as detailed roadmaps through processes that can lead to greater individual and firm success at every stage of a legal career.

Normand-Hochman sets the stage by observing that the legal industry is dealing with rapid change driven by digitalisation, artificial intelligence, globalisation, significantly higher levels of competition and Covid-19. Take a moment to unpack that short list, and think about the impact of new entrants into the world of lawyers, in the form of non-lawyer service providers and data-driven services that reduce or displace the need for lawyers. Add to that the arrival of lawyers and firms from other jurisdictions and, at the same time, the increasing willingness of clients to obtain advice from lawyers who are not within walking or driving distance of their office. And alongside all this, of course, there is the impact of the wide-spread adoption of in-house legal teams on traditional client relationships and workflows.

Put it all together, and Normand-Hochman concludes, quite rightly, that ‘managing and leading the human side of organisations has never been so important’. Fortunately, this new edition comes at just the right time.

One of the strong recurring themes that runs through many of the contributions is the integration of talent management with strategy. Marc Bartel and Caroline Vanovermeire make this point very bluntly: ‘Talent is vital for the successful implementation of any strategy’. Normand-Hochman discusses the ‘absolute imperative to align talent with strategy’. Each of the authors in this volume in their own way tackles a part of the talent/strategy imperative.

A number of authors discuss aspects of talent development within the law firm context. Jay Connolly explores the importance of diversity and inclusion – with the emphasis on inclusion – and lays out a comprehensive analysis of training goals, techniques, tools and performance measurement, setting the stage for a deep dive into performance management by Laure Carapezzi and Jean-Baptiste Lebelle. Moving along the career continuum, Tony King provides detailed insights into the partnership promotion process, perhaps the most important milestone in a lawyer's career apart from getting that first job. Normand-Hochman then follows with the next question: developing partners as managers and leaders.

Alongside these discussions of the steps through the legal talent arc, Jonathan Middleburgh and Simon Pizzey provide an excellent guide to coaching for lawyers, and Stuart Barnett does the same for mentoring, both increasingly recognised as key talent management tools in the legal profession.

Heidi Gardner provides research-based insights into the benefits of a well-oiled legal team, and she means ‘team’ and not ‘group’. Her analysis of the distinction between smart collaboration and cross-selling, and the professional and financial benefits of fostering true collaboration, is compelling and indeed inspiring. Her research has demonstrated that the benefits of multiple partners collaborating together to solve client challenges far outstrip the benefits of Partner A merely sending a client down the hall to Partner B to receive additional separate unintegrated advice. Beyond the data, she lays out the key steps for improving collaboration within a firm and building a collaborative culture.

Larry Richard offers insights into the common personality traits of lawyers, and sets the table for Robert Sharpe's discussion of techniques for leading lawyers through change, which most readers already know is a unique challenge in the typical law firm, with its mostly sceptical highly-autonomous partners. It will not come as a surprise to read that the attitudes and behaviours that lawyers bring to the profession, and reinforce along the way, tend to make them distinctly resistant to change.

Shifting from looking inside the firm to looking outside, Sarah Martin discusses the importance of emotional intelligence, Peter Alfandary discusses the more recent concept of cultural intelligence and Kevin Doolan and Moray McLaren provide detailed practical advice on how to build sustainable client relationships without engaging in that activity which most lawyers find to be both terrifying and abhorrent: selling.

Normand-Hochman returns with Tom Spence to provide a detailed discussion of lateral partner onboarding and integration. How often have we seen that go badly? Well – spoiler alert – a serious focus on lateral partner integration will result in far better recruitment outcomes than have often been seen in the past.

The last word goes to Shelley Dunstone. Being the last word in this volume, it is not surprising that Dunstone looks to the future. Mindful of the observations concerning our current VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) as summarised by Normand-Hochman at the outset, Dunstone offers advice and techniques to prepare our firms, and ourselves, for the challenges. It comes down to adopting an innovative mindset throughout the firm. And that starts with the leader.

Whether you are a professional development manager, practice group leader, an office managing partner, a mentor, firm board member, a firm CEO or just a lawyer who want to up your game, this book offers a wealth of insights, techniques and advice on managing talent for success.

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