Thursday, August 07, 2008

Power and Accountability: Take Two of These and Call Me In The Morning!

Is your firm suffering from a lack of innovation? Is your firm slow to change? Do you labor over the simplest decisions in your partnership meetings and sometimes feel you are dealing more with politics and personalities than important matters that drive your business forward? If so, then your firm clearly lacks a PA system! What the hell is a PA system? No, not a speaker system, a Power and Accountability System. Without BOTH of these in place at the same time, you will have problems innovating, enjoying what you do, and impacting positive change in your organization. Power . . . . Accountability. Take Two of these and call me in the morning. Here is why you need BOTH:

No Power, No Accountability:
This is a typical partnership: Nobody (not one person) has authority (and likewise, nobody really has ultimate accountability) You operate by consensus, and when you make crappy decisions you can all throw your hands up in the air and say "hey, I just voted like everyone else. It wasn't my decision" Most of the time that you are in firm meetings you are dealing with challenging personalities, everyone thinks they are an expert on everything, you take the lowest common denominator of risk and innovation because the majority vote want to retire within 5 years and you cannot innovate at their expense. You are in a room full of mostly old white guys all of that talk like a have a dozen testicles and act like they have none! Why can't you innovate? Because NOBODY has the power to change and NOBODY is accountable to making the right decisions in your firm. Two words: Stale mate!

Power without Accountability:
This is a problem without a doubt and you have seen it before. This is the asshole that works down the hall from you. He treats everyone like shit, many people have left the firm because of the way they were treated by him, few would admit it, and the people who reported the problem to other Partners will tell you that everyone looked the other way because he is a large producer of business -- he can do whatever he wants, right? After all, what business do you have to tell him how to act when you can't originate $4Mil in business/year? What is more likely to be happening is that you are scared to death that if you tried to confront or change the "asshole" that his $4mil book, which you benefit from, will walk out the door with him when he leaves at night. There are people with power and no accountability at all. . . these people are a cancer to your organization, a disease. They will keep you down, ruin your culture, and prevent you from becoming the firm that your people wish it could be. You are cheating the next generation of lawyers by keeping these people.

Accountability without Power:
This is a curious situation to be in as well, and more common that you may think. Your non-lawyer executives, like your Chief Operating Officer or Chief Marketing Officer. Sometime it is even your Managing Partner. You are a growing firm and know you need structure and more help, but you all have huge egos and became Partner so you do not have to report to ANYONE! BUT, because you know you need help you Hire a COO, CMO or elect a Managing Partner and expect RESULTS! You brought them in to increase revenue growth or efficiency, or deal with problems, you are setting goals and expectations of them in their roles and their compensation may even be tied to them. What's worst, your firm does not give them the Power (authority) to be effective in their own roles! Your Managing Partner may be expected to change the culture, but is no empowered to fire the asshole partner or to manage other partners, right? Your COO is expected to increase productivity and efficiency, but he does not have the Power or Authority to tell your partners how to use their administrative staff in a less wasteful way! Your CMO has a great budget and can make great promises to the world about what you can do, but does not have the POWER to reprimand lawyers who do not live up to the brand promise! Anyone who is in this category, I feel sorry for you. Do yourself a favor and get the hell out of there! Apply to Exemplar where you can get both!

You see: The only way to innovate and change with the times is to get the right people on the bus, identify their strengths, empower the hell out of them, give them the tools to succeed, and THEN hold them accountable! It takes TRUST which is not in the vocabulary of most lawyers, yet is built into the very fabric of the Exemplar organization. With a good PA (Power and Accountability) System, you can go a long way, but they are travel buddies. So, if you do not have them in you firm, or one is missing, please take two of these and call me in the morning. Once you realize how successful you can be, you'll wonder why you didn't do this 10 years ago!


William said...


I understand your position on power and accountability, but how would you suggest implementing this in an established firm? It would be difficult to convince partners to give up power to a new COO or CMO, in hopes that they (the partners) would understand this is in the best interest of the firm. If we are looking at established firms with the “mostly old white guys,” then how can you move away from the established model, which, in many instances, has brought them great success—albeit at the expense of their junior associates? I believe that this ties into what you are doing with your company, which although I think is great, I am unsure how this could work at a large scale, established firm.


Christopher Marston said...

Hi William. Thanks for your question. You are right that at an established firm this would be difficult. Many firms are bringing in executives out of necessity, but be not fooled -- they are NOT giving them the authority they really need to do their job. Exemplar has taken great care to instill in our culture the significance of having the RIGHT people do the RIGHT job. That being said, it is such a basic business principle that, as logical as it is, still does not overcome the emotion in most partnerships -- the need to retain power. They rationalize it until their blue, but reality is that they will not give up the power. Thanks for your contribution

Alexander said...

Great post very interesting