Monday, 21 September 2009

Do what you do best

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been reading the "UK Annual Report 2009" from "The Lawyer" (available here). I have already commented on a number of things featured in the report (see here and here), but would like to use a quote from the article entitled "Crow Bar". Talking about managing and growing Quadrant Chambers, the new Chief Executive Tim Gerrard is quoted as saying:
"'Why would you give a barrister responsibility for HR or IT?', he queries. He suggests that barristers should be getting on with what they do best and leaving management to others."
To any reader who hasn't worked in management with (or of) lawyers, this will seem blindingly obvious and is something that most commercial enterprises discovered some decades ago. In most law firms, however, this could almost be thought of as heresy. One feature of the downturn - especially in mid-sized firms - has been the reduction in the number of senior support directors with their roles often being taken on (part time) by partners, with the day-to-day tasks given to more junior staff.

Even if the partner in question has an intimate understanding and knowledge of the role, the idea that they should spend time in the administration of the post rather than in acting as a partner in the firm is incredible. It can't end well. If the partner is dedicated to the support job they have taken on, they will inevitably reduce the hours spent working on client matters - and so reduce their revenue to the firm. If they do not reduce their client hours and so maintain their billing levels, they will not be able to dedicate the time required to their support job. There was a reason, after all, that the now-redundant director worked full time.

My impression is that the Bar has been better at this. Barristers have a track record of leaving the administration of their practice to their clerks, and so it is not a difficult step to install a professional management layer in larger chambers. Barristers are, of course, specialists themselves and so perhaps have a better understanding that they cannot be masters of all tasks. Solicitors, who have not had the same separation between the practice and administration of law, tend to find it more difficult to admit that they should leave the administration to a professional.

I shall be paraphrasing and quoting Tim Gerrard to those firms I work with. Engage professional managers and let the partners get on with what they do best - managing their clients, finding new work and cross selling the firm's services.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more Peter. I have been working with lawyers and marketing for a couple of years now and I can tell you it is the rare partner who likes it; understands it; or has time for it. Most will get excited for an hour in a meeting, but as soon as they get back to their office they are off to the races.