Monday, 26 July 2010

Responsibility and Leadership

As regular readers will know, I have issues about the way that many law firms are managed - specifically that firms are, in general, run by "enthusiastic amateurs" who have an instinctive suspicion of those professional managers who do not have a law degree (merely having advanced degrees in management, for example).

I was reading the story of Halliwells over the weekend (see here for the least impartial view) and was struck at the difference in the outcomes for partners, junior legal staff and support staff. It would appear that many of the partners have simply walked into new roles at other firms while most of the others are currently - or will soon be - out of work. I am sure that most of them will secure new employment soon, but it is striking that it is the owners and managers of the business - those who presumably made the decisions that got the firm into its current mess - who are least affected by its failure.

It occurred to me, however, that I might have been thinking about this in the wrong way. I have been constantly comparing law firms with more commercial organisations when, perhaps, they are not business at all. Most are simply collections of solicitors who have no consideration of the firm as an entity and who seem to have no motivation to look after anyone but themselves.

Does this sound too cruel? Perhaps. I'm sure that I am describing one end of the continuum. I am, however, sure that many partners seem to have a poor understanding that the firm is larger than just them, their team or the legal staff. My recent analysis of 186 of the top 200 firms (as measured by "The Lawyer") showed that, on average, 45% of staff in those firms were non fee-earners (with the maximum being 64% and the minimum being 12.5%). That is a large number of people to look after. The partners in law firms have a responsibility for these people, even if many of them seem to think that this responsibility can be discharged by email...

So - the learning is this. Your firm is more than just you. It is a collection of real people who (in general) work hard to provide you with additional profits and who, in return, hope for consideration and respect - and a long term future. As a partner, you are asked to be a leader for the whole firm in return for which you are given wealth, status and security. It is not sensible to assume that you can have one without the other. Lead your firm, please.

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