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Determinism, Sociology, and the Inevitability of the Baby Boom Gap in Law Firm Management

If I may be so bold as to call Penelope Trunk (of the Brazen Careerist) a colleague, I must say that with respect, I disagree with her blithe dismissal of the current angst about losing baby boomer talent at the upper ranks of law firms.

Trunk likens the brouhaha about the looming baby boom gap to the non-event of 1999 (you remember, all our computers were supposed to crash). Well, the analogy breaks down. First of all, 1999/2000 was a non-event because all those COBOL programmers that she notes were hired, were actually working like the devil to fix the issues. It is not as if all those programmers just sat around twiddling thumbs hoping nothing would happen and then when it didn't, they melted away with a collective sigh and an "aw shucks". As I understand it, they did real work and patches were ubiquitously sent all over the globe. In short, it was a non-event at least in some part because everyone knew it was coming and actually planned for it.

Of course, maybe the computers wouldn't have crashed anyway, I don't know. But I can tell you that a simple digit fix in computer software is a hell of alot easier to fix than the not-so-easily-dismissed demographics of our law-firm leaders. Face it, despite their "massive leverage" (per Trunk) against future earnings and whatever designs they may have on needs for future income (click here to see her article) you can't deny:

1) baby boomers constitute a large majority of law firm leaders;

2) baby boomers are in their 60's now and at the age of retirement;

3) baby boomers who are in leadership have been benefit ting from huge profits (these people--firm managing partners, etc., are all equity partners) at major firms in recent years--they do have enough to retire or at least be sorely tempted to continue working only for non-monetary reasons--we are not talking aging secretaries here;

4) there are serious gaps in the age-demographics--the next tier of leadership is pretty young, pretty green as a group;

5) many, many firms still have partnership agreements that require de-equitization and the laying-down of leadership at 65 or sometimes 70--bottom line, they don't have to WANT to go, many will be forced out.

Thus, I think Penelope is going to be eating her hat soon enough.

Bottom line: firms need to take real steps to manage their leadership assets--and grow more such assets.

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