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Why Wouldn’t a Law Firm Want To Create a Shadow Executive Committee?

Release Date: December 2021
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A Shadow Executive Committee allows younger partners and associates “to learn at their feet”. But the learning goes both ways.

According to the Harvard Business Review, in the late 1990s, GE’s Jack Welch used reverse mentoring to teach senior executives about the internet. The idea and intent were clear – he wanted the leaders of GE to learn important skills from the more tech-savvy “leaders of tomorrow.”

Law firms struggle to identify future leaders among their ranks. A firm’s succession strategy, long term stability and cultural identity is dependent upon developing leaders. Most firms are proud of their hiring successes and training and development programs for their young lawyers. Firms stress the importance of imbedding the firm’s culture from “day one” to those coming aboard.

I suggest that this process can be strengthened with the creation of a Shadow Executive Committee – a group of rising leaders that works with the firm’s executive committee on strategic initiatives. The process can drive the identification of future leaders, allow current leaders to augment their understanding of crucial issues, and provide an ongoing learning and growth platform that benefits the firm now and in the future.

Those chosen to serve on the committee should reflect a cross-section of the firm’s practices and locations, be of diverse backgrounds, and be committed to the program. Follow-ship of the shadow committee would be a plus.

An active Shadow Executive Committee allows rising leaders to understand the firm’s practices and culture while also allowing the firm to assess the emotional intelligence of the younger lawyers for leadership roles, all in an environment that supports and sustains the success of the firm.

So, the answer to the question posed in the title is: if your current executive committee does not communicate among themselves; does not trust one another; or puts themselves ahead of others, you would not want future leaders in the room. With such an executive committee, there are no good lessons to be learned.

The best executive committees grow together, learn together, and lead together, with new members sprinkled in over time (think term limits). The “new blood,” who can be identified and nurtured through the Shadow Executive Committee process, will bring new ideas and fresh views, and can lead important cultural change through diverse selections.

The great executive committees will embrace the change, identify and meet challenges in a timely manner, and communicate and share their vision of the firm to all – a vision of a firm that is diverse, welcoming, and committed to excellence.

Just like the GE leaders in the nineties, law firm leaders can learn when seeing through their younger colleagues’ eyes and bolster the firm’s strategies, in such important areas as recruiting, retention and, of course, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Current firm leaders can use a Shadow Executive Committee to build a succession plan and a path to the future of the firm.



Aon’s Professional Services Practice values your feedback. To discuss any of the topics raised in this article, please contact George J Wolf, Jr.

George J Wolf, Jr
Managing Director
New York