Succession planning can be broken down into three parts: 1) evaluation of succession needs; 2) development of succession talent; and 3) putting a succession plan into place. In the first article of this series, I discussed how to evaluate succession needs. Once you know what you need and when you need it, your next task is to figure out how best to develop that talent so it’s available to the company at the right time.

I view the development of talent in four components: 1) creating a talent/skills chart for each attorney; 2) periodic formal evaluations of each attorney; 3) creation of a development plan for each attorney; and 4) developing sources of talent outside of the legal department.

Creating a talent/skills chart for each attorney

For each attorney in the department, you can create a document/chart that identifies that person’s legal skill set (e.g., litigation, commercial agreements, IP law, etc.) along with other skills you deem important for all attorneys in the department to have, especially if they want to move up the department ladder, along with the future needs you have determined for the legal department. You then assign a numerical scale (e.g., 1-10) to rate the person on each particular skill. What you get is a simple tool that allows you to track legal skills (including new skills you add as part of an overall development plan) along with the nonlegal skills needed to rise in the department. Download the full white paper to view the chart/tool this creates.

An important aspect to look at is engagement. Employees that are engaged are far more valuable than those that are not engaged and especially versus those that are actively disengaged. In short: these people, if they have the right skills, are keepers and ones you want to develop and promote.

Formal evaluations

Formal evaluations and feedback are core to developing in-house talent. It needs to be regular, candid, and constructive. The feedback should be about things the attorney does well, things they need to work on/improve, and whether there are any potential roadblocks to them advancing in the company/legal department. It requires managers who are capable and well-trained.

Useful evaluations will consider a number of different viewpoints, often called a “360 review.” Some evaluations also seek input from people outside the company, e.g., outside counsel. The 360 process can be very formal and tied to a process run by the HR department (which is ideally what you want) or it can be informal. Its purpose is to gather insights and useful information about how best to develop the lawyer into the type of employee the company needs for its next generation of leaders. Remember that while a performance review focuses on how well the lawyer did vs. specific goals set at the beginning of the year, a 360 evaluation focuses on behaviors and attributes that the legal department (and the company) wish to develop in its leaders. One is more operational, the other more strategic.

For more about planning the future of your law department, see the full version of this article. Or visit the larger Legal Department 2025 Resource Center from Thomson Reuters.