April 15, 2019
Shop Talk

Bowditch courting new attorneys

Photo | Brad Kane
Robert Cox, managing partner, Bowditch, Worcester

Robert Cox, managing partner, Bowditch, Worcester

Founded: 1914

Other offices: Framingham, Boston

Employees: 115 with 60 attorneys (35 in Worcester)

Birthplace: Worcester

Residence: Rutland

Education: Bachelor of art in philosophy from UMass Amherst; juris doctor from Suffolk University Law School

Worcester law firm Bowditch & Dewey has rebranded as Bowditch as part of a larger effort to transition to younger attorneys. Robert Cox, who took over as managing partner in November 2017, has been spearheading the effort.

Why do you want younger attorneys?

Our partners are committed to having the law firm continue after us. Bowditch has been here for more than 100 years, and we would like it to continue for another 100 years. Like the legal profession, our partners are getting older. Some have retired, and some are getting ready to retire. We have to transition our practices to the next generation of attorneys.

We really are committed to the long-term presence of our firm in Worcester. It is important to our identity as a firm. It has been exciting to be a part of Worcester for so long.

Is there a shortage of young lawyers?

Yes and no. When the Great Recession hit in 2007, there was a deep cut in the need for legal services, as people weren't using attorneys as much. Law school applications went down, and the need for attorneys went down. That carried through so the young attorney pool is a bit less.

It is very competitive to get talent. We work very hard to get good people here and get good people to stay.

Will you have more than 60 attorneys?

No. We want to maintain what we have. That will mean young attorneys will replace our older attorneys.

How do you attract the next generation?

We upgraded our website a couple of years ago, and we go by the brand Bowditch now, even though the name of the firm is Bowditch & Dewey, LLP. We have increased our presence on social media; you will find us on Facebook and LinkedIn. On our website, you will see our blog posts.

That resonates with the clients of the next generation, and the next generation of attorneys is taking notice as well.

How do you keep them on board?

We give hands-on and individualized training. Each attorney has a plan on how to generate business for the company. We let recruits know upfront how we operate here, including developing our resources toward more business growth. When we hire people, we are very transparent in making sure our needs match their skills, and the arrangement will work out for both parties.

We focus on transition planning, which puts us ahead of the firm compared to other law firms. Our new hires tell us these are things their old firms didn't do.

With our lateral hires – who are attorneys who already have established business and practices before they come here – we've been very successful at integrating them into our firm. That takes intention and structure. We spend a lot of time talking with them about what we can do for them and what they can do for us. We want to make sure their practices match up with our practices.

What makes us successful is our lateral hires stay. The national statistics show only 28% of lateral hires are highly effective in contributing to their new firms' success. That is not the case here.

So, a key motivator is empowering them?

We are moving to a flatter organization. We are giving information to our incoming partners and attorneys to know about the business. Even with our non-attorney employees, we want them to know the finances of our business, so they can understand how we work.

The next generation of attorneys is asking these questions. It is a change from when I came here 30 years ago.

And you're becoming more tech savvy?

Our technology is a piece of this, too. We want to not only be on top of it, but we are ahead. We are rolling out a new document management system this year.

We have a technology innovation council, which is a group of about eight employees who make sure we have the technology we need to be the best.

How long will this recruiting effort last?

We see ourselves as in a transition period for the next 10 years.

Will Bowditch start new practice areas?

We will continue to focus on our core groups: litigation, real estate, environmental, trust & estates, labor & employment and business. We want to add depth to each of those practice areas, which creates more specialties. Me, for example, I am in environmental law, and I have very deep and narrow practices in wastewater law and contaminated properties.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Editor Brad Kane.

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