Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Lawyer as a Business Person

Stephen Mayson wrote an interesting article the other day ("Does my BUT look big in this?") in which he answered a number of questions he had heard in relation to the regulatory changes coming to the legal profession this October.

I'd like to address only the first question he raises - “I didn’t become a lawyer to be a businessperson”. This is true of many of the lawyers I meet. They joined the profession to practice law, to interact with clients and to become an expert in their area of law. No lawyer I have ever met went to law school and joined a firm in order to manage it.

Why on earth, then, do so many do it? Mostly because they are asked to. I have no problem with this at all. My issues start if those 'promoted' to a management position in their firm (whether running a small department or as Managing Partner) do not (a) get some training (b) find a business person to act as a mentor and/or (c) get a professional manager in to run the business aspects of their firm.

In a smaller firm it will be down to the lawyer to run the firm - pragmatically there is no additional money to pay for a layer of management. This is not true in the top 200 or so firms, and yet few of them have a professional manager in place. By professional manager I mean a person with training and experience in running a business - they may have a background in law, but must have formal training in the skills of management and have experience in managing a business.

Consider Malcolm Gladwell's principle of "10,00 hours". As a partner in a good firm, the chances are that you have put in your 10,000 hours of practice and work. It is unreasonable to assume, however, that at the same time, you have also been able to get 10,000 hours' experience of business.

Specialisation is the key - have an experienced lawyer run the legal aspects of the business, and have an equally experienced manager run the business bits. Common sense, surely...

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