Friday, 3 July 2009

Leadership & Ownership vs. Management in Law Firms

I have just read "Dealing With the 'Leadership Vacuum' in Law Firm Management" by Joel A. Rose.

In general I like the article since it speaks well about the tasks required to lead a firm. Where I differ is in the tasks he seems to allocate to the Senior/Managing Partner. Let me just quite one of his lists:
The following are some of the functions that the managing partner should perform:
  1. Maintaining the morale of the lawyers, as a group and individually.
  2. Anticipating management needs and making recommendations for fulfilling them.
  3. Supervising the administrator.
  4. Making decisions concerning matters that do not warrant consideration by the management committee, such as implementation of personnel policy.
  5. Implementing the management committee's decisions by informing the proper attorneys and by following up to see that the decisions have been implemented.
  6. Coordinating all management activities.
Ok - point 1 is well made and is one of the most important tasks for a Managing Partner. Point 2 - well, yes, but not on his/her own. The firm's management must be trusted to bring these things to the managing committee or Partner early enough too. Point 3 is a "no brainer". It's the rest I have serious problems about.

"Implementation of ... policy". That's why the firm should have professional managers. Note that I say "professional" - not lawyers performing the roles. In my experience, lawyers should not get very close to the implementation of any policy. Point 5 I could be persuaded about so long as we are talking about legal work. Point 6, though, really upsets me. Point 6 lies at the heart of many of the problems facing law firms. Coordination of management activities is an activity that should be performed by the Chief Executive or Chief Operating Officer - i.e. the non-lawyer who, operationally, runs the firm. This role can almost never be properly accomplished by a lawyer, unless they have (a) given up all legal work to concentrate on administration and (b) undertaken a good amount of education in management. Failing that a professional is needed. Someone with the knowledge, skills and experience to run the firm's administration while the lawyers do what they specialise in.

At the heart of this matter is often confusion amongst the Partners about the difference between ownership and management. I have often heard Partners saying "We own the firm and so want to be involved in the way it runs". Well, yes they do own the firm, but the only involvement in running the firm should be in the selection of a Chief Executive and setting strategy. Anything else is inefficient. Allow the lawyers to practice law and work with clients, allow the Managing Partner to run the lawyers and lead the firm, and allow the firm's management to get on an manage.

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