Law firms see lawyer exchanges as way to attract and retain young talent, says Sona Pancholy

Meritas recently re-launched its exchange programs after a COVID hiatus

Law firms see lawyer exchanges as way to attract and retain young talent, says Sona Pancholy
Sona Pancholy

As the pandemic-induced uneasiness around travel subsides and law firms look for opportunities to nurture young talent, the popularity of lawyer exchanges is growing for the Meritas global alliance.

As law firms have examined various strategies for attracting and retaining top talent, a lawyer exchange is something law firm leaders can extend to rising stars in their firm, says Meritas president Sona Pancholy. She adds that, over the same period, law firms have grown accustomed to their lawyers working away from the office. They are comfortable having a lawyer in another office for a few weeks, and are confident work will get done and billables will continue to flow.

“Because of that need in the firms, and that comfort with being able to function that way, it’s a lot easier to get behind a program like this,” says Pancholy.

While it is an opportunity for a lawyer to expand their experience, it also allows firms in the Meritas network to get to know each other’s capabilities and clients, she says. Firms gather insight from their peers, and the experience bolsters collaboration across jurisdictions. For lawyers, it is a “chance for non-competitive relationship-building and development of global knowledge,” said Meritas’ announcement.

In an exchange, the lawyer remains employed by and doing their firm’s work, but they do it on another’s premises.

“It strengthens relationships and potential collaboration between the firms; strengthens the opportunity for clients and referral development because there’s an actual awareness of the types of clients that they’re working with, the types of solutions that they’re bringing to their clients. That just expands your ability to spot future opportunities when you go back to your home firm.”

Meritas launched its exchange program in 2009 and, in September 2022, resumed it after a COVID hiatus.

“When a lot of firms are working remotely or when people are not actually in the office, it’s a lot harder to encourage that to happen,” says Pancholy. “We have interest. We have firms in various regions that are interested in seeing this program and are committed to trying to find ways to take advantage of it.”

Since 2009, 12 Meritas firms and 21 lawyers have participated in an exchange. Recently, lawyers in the network’s Australia-New Zealand region launched the “Young Lawyer Fortnight Exchange,” swapping lawyers between Adelaide and Brisbane. In another hemisphere, the “Meritas Emerging Talent Lawyer Exchange” program traded lawyers between London, Dublin, and Edinburgh.

Pancholy has found that members who have done an exchange are becoming champions of the experience to their peers. She says there is also demand from member law firms to assist them in making it happen.

“As part of a global network, we actually have a broad range of ways that we can go about supporting firms to do this.”

There is an opportunity for firms in Canada to exchange with other Canadian firms. But in cases where firms are hoping to grow their client base across the border, Meritas can also support that.

“We have the breadth of a global network,” says Pancholy. “We have firms all around the world, so they can really be thoughtful about where they want to place that exchange.”

“It’s also member-driven. So, we create the structure. We promote it. We raise awareness around it. We help people know and understand how to do it.” But she says it is up to Meritas members to identify the locations where they see the value.

Founded in 1990, Meritas is a network of law firms which includes 8,900 lawyers in 183 firms in 92 countries. Among its Canadian members are Toronto’s Minden Gross LLP, Winnipeg’s Pitblado Law, and Lawson Creamer in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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