Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Law Firms Are Over-Managed and Under-Lead. . and Full of People Who Cannot Manage Either!

David Maister and other prominent writers on professional services have all concluded that Law firms are over-managed and under-lead. . .

The fact that law firms simply suck in the leadership category is not worthy of discussion since that sad fact plainly speaks for itself. It is even more sad that, as David Maister so correctly points out, management has beat leadership and true people management is virtually non-existent in law firms today.

My experience is that law firms are full of people who cannot manage and people who refuse to be managed. I find this dichotomy to be quite interesting because you would think that it would take particularly skilled managers to manage a workforce of people who, by their nature "resists" being managed. Instead, firms have given up on trying to manage their people so there is very "management" going on at all.

When I ask Associates where they get feedback from they tell me they get a spreadsheet from "above" that lands on their desk every month with their billable hours on it (so they can worry endlessly about whether they are meeting their quotas).

When I ask what the reporting structure is at their firm most have no idea. When I ask when they last got a "review" with their manager they said "What? A Review?" Some said it happened once two years ago and never since. Most would never describe the person reviewing them as a manager at all. The title itself is simply nonexistent in law firms today. Think about it: The Managing Partner of a law firm does no really "manage" people either. Do you really think that the Partners at the big firm voted in Mr. Popular so that he could give them performance evaluations? Put simply, the Partners do no give ANYONE permission to manage them! They have autonomy! The only thing that Managing Partners really manage are big egos and fires in the firm.

So the problem with law firm structure (a dilution by consensus model) is that is lacks accountability and checks and balances altogether! Partners are not accountable to anyone. . . they are accountable to the collective only, none of which have any individual consent to be managing another. There is no Board of Directors holding the executives (Partners) accountable for being good. It is a corrupt system. . . the Partners are the Directors, the Shareholders, and everyone is the CEO of their own empire. There are no checks and balances at all.

It is no wonder why large firms are unable to build a consistent culture when they are stuck with the sub-cultures created by each Partner who leads a department.

It is no wonder why Partners can get away with treating Associates and Partners alike like crap and get away with it.

It is no wonder why the largest rainmakers are the ones who are allowed to sit on the compensation committees. One day they will accommodate themselves out of existence!

It is no wonder why people -- future leaders -- are not identified and developed within the firm.

It is no wonder why lawyers get away with hoarding their books of business -- the very people who are in a position to fix the problem of client hoarding are benefiting from their self-accommodation!

It is no wonder that attrition rates and burnout are at historical highs.

It is no wonder that a young attorney like myself finds no inspiration in the traditional model. . . one that has abandoned its young . . . one that, by its structure alone, speaks volumes about how they do not value who we are, how we develop as professionals, or whether we have a thriving organization to lead in decades to come.

It IS a wonder, however, why the most inquisitive of professionals do no themselves step off the treadmill once in awhile to take a look in the mirror. To see what you do from afar. To watch how the business model adversely effects your life and the lives of those around you. To escape for a moment the fact that you have spent more than two billing increments reading this blog and realize that you and everyone around you lives their lives this way. . . on a treadmill that simply will not stop . . . tick, tock, drop.

With all of the impact a new business model can have on the lives of professionals in this industry who are crying out for a better life. . . . It is NO WONDER why I would dedicate my professional life to abandoning the billable hour in favor of a model that makes sense and create a corporate structure with accountability, management, leadership, vision, and hope. . . . . . so that thousands fewer of us lawyers have to wake up every day on a treadmill, return home after our children sleep, and see every non-billed moment of our life as an opportunity cost. Finally, they can actually be happy! It would be my greatest pleasure to bring this sense of satisfaction to our people!

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