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Law Firm Leadership





Drawen from surveys, discussions and interviews with managing partners, here are six 'thought starters' to reflect upon with respect to your leadership style and approach.

Law Firm Leadership Reflections:
Practical Advice For The Managing Partner


Mistakes Of Leadership

Extracted from a number of our surveys and interviews conducted with law firm managing partners and firm leaders, here are four of the common mistakes that these incumbents have observed new leaders make:

• Not understanding your partner’s “appetite for change.” The way many partners will react to any change in strategy will be driven by what has happened in the past. Many firms are filled with skeptical lawyers who have seen multiple initiative come and go, and are now waiting for yours to fail.

• Not acting early or boldly enough. What happens when you pretend not to notice an underperforming partner, a new competitive firm entering your market, or something emerge that is really going to adversely impact the profession? The earlier and more decisively you can react, the better.

• Losing focus. Within two days of being appointed the new managing partner your calendar is full for the next six months, and if you’re not careful you will spend all your time doing urgent but not critical things - fighting fires. You only have a limited tenure, so focusing on the key initiatives that you want to be remembered for, is crucial.

• Getting stuck in your office. Your job operates under immense pressures and it is all too easy to get stuck behind your desk. When was the last time you visited a client? So few firm leaders make time to get out and visit clients, someone who actually does can make significant gains.


Stop Being A Victim

We received an e-mail the other day from Joe Grenny and it reminded us of a sound communications principle that is all too easy to forget . . . the next time you find yourself telling a story where you're making yourself out to be an innocent sufferer, rethink the situation. It could be that this story is keeping you from truly being effective.

Very often in these stories, we leave out facts about the role we may have played in the problem. For instance, we complain about some partner in our practice group who takes no initiative: "I assign him a project, check in with him during the month between meetings, and he still fails to deliver exactly what I’m looking for." What we don't include is that we forced this partner to take on some project that he wasn’t really interested in doing and then wonder why he is not exactly jumping up and down with enthusiasm, or implemented the task the way we might have wanted him to.

When you find yourself telling victim stories, tell the rest of the story, and transform yourself from being a victim by asking, "What am I pretending not to know about the role I played in the problem?"

If an objective observer were watching what just took place, would they partially blame you? It takes courage to examine your own role. It also transforms you from being a helpless victim into being a responsible leader who can take charge of being part of the solution.

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of Crucial Conversations, a book well worth reading.


Take Time To Reflect

Drawing from some meetings we’ve had with managing partners, every firm leader should consider taking time to reflect on how their leadership actions are viewed by their colleagues.

Moliere, the 17th century French dramatist, once said: It is not only what we do, but also
what we do not do, for which we are accountable. Is there anything that you are avoiding doing that needs to be done? For example, are you putting off a difficult conversation? Are you delaying any important decisions? Are you delegating away responsibilities that should stay in your court?

At the end of each day, before you head home, take a few minutes to mentally go over your day. Think about significant conversations you’ve held, meetings you attended, emails you sent and other actions you undertook. Are you proud? Could you have handled anything a touch better? This should inspire you to plan your next day around your highest purpose.

Get hold of a leadership assessment form and use it to reflect on how others in your team would rate you on each dimension. For example:
- puts the interests of the team before own interests;
- shares credit for successes;
- readily shares relevant information;
- asks how am I doing;
- treats others with respect regardless of their position;
- fosters teamwork across all practice groups;
- stands behind decisions made by the team;
- provides honest feedback on a timely basis.
How would others respond to these questions about you?

No one can be responsible for your state of mind. We are totally responsible for the impact that others have on us. Understand the disruptive effect that emotions can have on your behavior and resolve to do something about it.


How Do Others Feel in Your Presence?

Once in a while, we note a catchy phrase that resonates with us and makes us reflect on our own experiences. "Emotional Wake" is just such a phrase. In the book Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott defines "Emotional Wake" as ". . . what you remember after I'm gone. What you feel. The aftermath, aftertaste or afterglow."

As a managing partner or practice leader, in stressful circumstances, you may make an off-hand, negative comment that might devastate some partner who works with you. Sometimes, you may not even be aware of the impact that your words have had. Often, you forget the incident, but the recipient can recall your words verbatim. And long after he or she has left your presence, they will still remember the negative psychological experience that was created.

The converse is the ability to create positive psychological experiences, or positive feelings; to bring out the best in others, to inspire them to give more and gets results. Think back of some practice leader who consistently made you feel good about yourself, a leader who inspired you to do your best work, a leader who motivated you to go the extra mile, every day. Chances are, that leader was an individual who left you with an emotional afterglow, not an emotional aftermath.

Effective leaders know that their emotions, both negative and positive – are contagious - that what they say and do - can affect the people in their team and the entire firm, for better or for worse.

Take a moment to reflect on your leadership style. Are you emotionally attractive? Do you drive others' emotions in your organization the right way? Are people eager to give you their discretionary effort? The answer to these questions can have a profound impact on the quality of your work relationships and, ultimately, on your practice group’s productivity.


One Managing Partner Or Two?

We were recently engaged to look at whether a particular firm should have one managing partner (serving full time) or two lawyers splitting the role (and each serving half-time).

Some may put forward the argument that having two firm leaders allows each of them to maintain a bit of a professional practice, but the ultimate decision isn’t so simple.

Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes, far from being a cure-all, separating the roles can hinder your firm. It can result in two strong personalities constantly at loggerheads. And while they quietly squabble, important strategic decisions are subsequently delayed. Key variables revolve around whether your firm is in a growth mode, what new skill sets may be needed at this point in time, as well as the ages and retirement prospects for those possible leadership candidates being considered.

There are some critical factors and issues that should be considered. Among them:
• Do underlying business issues favor one firm leader or two?
- How could splitting the role potentially impact the firm in a negative way?
- Alternatively, if a lot of travel is involved integrating the various offices of the firm, would having two leaders make it easier to do the job?
• Is the firm trying to recover from major governance problem (perhaps a benevolent dictator / name partner who retired after a long term of leading the firm)?
• What would two firm leaders, bringing different skills and aptitudes to the job, have as a benefit to the firm?
• Would one of the firm leaders be focused largely on details, while the other be expected to think more about longer-term strategies?
• Would one have a more dominant personality?
- Would having two individuals, with strong personalities trying to collaborate with each other, actually harm the firm in any way?
• Could differing ages of possible leaders set up one for succession?


Your Monthly Review

As one managing partner put it to us the other day, “I have monthly reviews with each of my practice group leaders. We talk about 3 things:
- What’s gone well (and how can we do more of that);
- What needs improvement (and how can we improve faster); and
- What’s the general feeling of how things are going in relation to your goals.”

Three simple questions that get right to the heart of what you’re focusing on . . . living your strengths; shoring up the weaknesses enough that they don’t bring your strengths down; and taking time to think about how you FEEL things are going. NICE!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick J. McKenna
Patrick J. McKenna has worked with the top management of premier law firms internationally to discuss, challenge and escalate their thinking on how to manage and compete effectively. He is co-author of business bestseller First Among Equals and current co-leads a bi-annual one-day intensive program entitled, First 100 Days: A Master Class For The New Managing Partner.

Copyright Patrick J. McKenna
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.



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