*According to a leading legal journalist who has gossiped and drunk with many
Drinking with managing partners can be a challenging pursuit, even for a legal editor like Alex Novarese of Legal Business. But it does help provide some interesting and perhaps more honest appraisal of where the legal industry is going after the upheavals of 2020.
He has found most managing partners to be “pretty likable people” and more grounded than many. “Without the constant feedback-loop of billing gratification that fuels many partners, they are typically less arrogant than many of their colleagues.”
So, as he puts it, he has put down his reflections on two decades’-worth of gossiping, arguing, drinking and ebating with the “c-suites of large law firms”. Among the key ‘findings’ is his observation that law firms have often failed in the basics of good management, often falling prey to the “banalities” of the contant stream of experts pronouncing what makes a business or firm successful.
He refers to the stream of “academics, consultants and authors pumping out truly laughable pseudo-science-meets-aspirational-musings dressed up as the latest secret of success.”
He also makes the point that to be an effective law firm leader also requires some basic human characteristics of decency. “Empathy, regard for others, plain dealing – these are areas in which the qualities of the rainmaker and law firm leader can materially diverge. It’s not uncommon for wildly effective practitioners to be awful people, but I’d struggle to think of any successful law firm leader I’ve known that was seriously wanting in basic character. It’s a people business.”
And the key ‘findings’ from this non-scientific, journalistic analysis of the legal profession – at least from the London legal scene anyway?
Here are key law management snippets:
Leadership Issues – “London-driven firms failed to adapt to the sprawling global partnerships that they have now become. With partnerships being increasingly unwilling to delegate big strategic decisions to leaders during the 2010s, the obvious question of the Covid-19 aftermath is whether managing partners will use the crisis to retake the helm.”
The Rainmaker as a law leader – “the crossover between rainmaker and effective managing partner is more considerable than often claimed. This common ground is all the more notable at top-tier outfits, where it is near-impossible to galvanise the partnership without a rock-solid pedigree as a practitioner in a core practice area.”
Leaders vs. Managers – “the fact that we spend far too much time focusing on the heroic leader, as opposed to the sound basics of management. Ninety-nine percent of what great businesses do is successfully executing and improving the day-to-day, compared to 1% rethinking their activities. Or that is what they should do – the vast majority of businesses would be lucky to manage that goal even 30% of the time. It is pointless to get absorbed in blue-sky thinking if you aren’t even doing the unsexy basics properly.”
The law firm leadership ‘wish list’ – “. . integrity, a decent work ethic, humour, functional empathy, strong communication skills, a solid grip of project management, an openish mind and sound judgement regarding human nature, partnerships and the legal industry. The more exotic qualities they will also need include an ability to build consensus and manipulate when necessary. “
How to appoint a leader – “Full elections used to work better at firms dominated by a single geography but have more recently proved much less effective with large global firms as elections are prone to being hijacked by national interest groups. But, honestly, there are no easy answers here.”
C-Suite Power – “I’ve heard it said that it is time to hand managing partners more power while making it easier for partnerships to eject failing leadership teams. There is a lot to be said for that. Handing more juice to managing and senior partners would also make the wider partnership take strategy more seriously.”
The strategy factors – “. . commercial law firms can usually be clearly divided between wannabes and conservatives. The former are looking to fundamentally change their business, while conservatives wish to preserve their position.”
There are clearly other factors that go into making an effecting law firm managing partner or CEO, but tackling some of the key factors Novarese outlines in a changed world and challenging legal landscape would surely get the effective managing partner on the right track.
Source: Legal Business
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