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Post #644 – Thursday,
January 10, 2013
More On Malignant Leaders
My January article in
American Lawyer Magazine, entitled Malignant
Leadership, stimulated a good number of emails from readers wanting to pose
questions and explore this subject in more depth – which makes one wonder
whether they are observing certain behaviors within their own firms that they
find troubling. In any event, here are
some of the questions, followed by my response.
To read the complete post - click here
Friday, January 11 - This was sent by a Partner (from an AmLaw 50 firm) who would prefer to remain anonymous:
Mr. McKenna’s article is excellent. However, the article
appears to be premised upon at least two “aspirational” assumptions: (a) the
managing partner and his/her governing board are open to such procedures; and,
(b) the partners at large have the courage not only to advocate for those
procedures, but to insist that they be followed.
Unfortunately, my own experience, as well as that of many
others I know in large law firms, suggests that rarely do either of these
assumptions prove to be true. More
often, it is the large rain-makers, rather than those most qualified (and most
likely to be receptive to instituting such procedures), who are placed in
positions of firm leadership. Those
individuals then typically seek to consolidate their power by surrounding
themselves with like-minded persons (i.e., individuals who are willing to place
their own interests above those of their partners and the firm as a whole),
and/or persons they can control. Partnership
agreements may be modified to accomplish this, or such agreements may be
ignored altogether. More importantly,
those who could do something about the situation – the partners themselves –
sit idly by out of fear for their own positions, having watched those brave
enough to take a stand being sliced to bits and then unceremoniously hurled out
the saloon’s plate glass window onto the dirt street. Indeed, the partners (myself included
at my former firm) who sit by and do nothing are probably the most to
blame for this situation – they get what they deserve (or some other applicable
However, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Indeed, the bankruptcy courts and those
charged with the responsibility of cleaning up the messes left after these
malignant leaders drive their firms into the ground, fall just slightly below
the rank and file partnership in terms of blame (in my opinion). Until the bankruptcy courts and the persons
charged with administering the bankruptcy process are willing to actually hold
these malignant leaders accountable for their acts – in ways that leave no
doubt that the legal profession and society will no longer tolerate such
conduct – rather than do that which is expedient, there is absolutely no
incentive for the malignant leaders to do otherwise. It is ironic that if creditors in these law
firm failures could see beyond the end of their respective noses (i.e., the
long-term), they would realize that their future interests would be better
served by taking a stand to deter this conduct now, thereby reducing the risk
that they and others will find themselves in this situation again (and again,
and again). It seems to me that
financial institutions who regularly loan money to law firms and individual
partners would be particularly incentivized to do this. Silly me.
Please excuse my broken record regarding this issue of
holding malignant leaders accountable in bankruptcy proceedings; however, as I
believe this point is key. In fact, it
is one of the few areas where behavioral change can actually be effected (as
opposed to waiting for the rank and file partners to stand up and say, “I’m mad
as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”) in the relatively near term.?
The unchecked malignant partner problem would seem to fall
squarely within first part of Lord Acton’s oft quote adage, “Power tends to
corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I’m less sure of the applicability of the
second half of the adage – i.e., “Great men are almost always bad men.” That is to say, I find it difficult to
characterize most of these malignant leaders, both those whose firms have failed
and others still in power, as “great men.” “Bad men,” yes; “great men”, no. Thanks for letting me vent.
Post #643 – Wednesday,
January 2, 2013
latest article appears today in the January issue of American Lawyer magazine.
wasn’t until a pair of more recent failures, of Howrey and Dewey & LeBoeuf,
that we’ve seen the industry begin to hold a firm’s own leadership accountable
for its failure.
often, boards and/or executive committees facilitate firm failures by denying,
overlooking, or “working around” crucial issues. In other words, firms fail when good people
do nothing! There is an absence of
checks and balances. Power is
centralized, and those responsible for monitoring have either been silenced or
choose to be mute. So when the board is
benign . . . the leadership can become malignant.
can take some time to realize that a firm leader is on a path to disaster. This is particularly the case when the leader
has had a stellar career. Fortunately,
there are firm-governance steps that can be taken to curb a malignant
leader. While this list is not
exhaustive, it does present plenty of options for consideration.
To read the complete
article – click here.
Post #642 – Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Is Your Firm Facing A Leadership Transition?
Few NEW firm leaders are as prepared as we, or they might wish. As
one expressed it:
"New firm leaders mistakenly believe that because they have
served as a practice group manager, an office head or on the firm's
executive committee they have the necessary background for taking on the role
of leading the entire firm . . . Not even close!"
The good news is that there is an orientation program for new leaders
that can make a meaningful difference and over 50 firm chairs and managing
partners have already experienced and attest to the difference it can make.
"I was struck by the synthesis of the issues you presented.
It was amazingly clear and comprehensive, given the breadth of the topic
and the short time available. I was delighted to attend the event and
learned a lot from it." Hugh Verrier, Chairman - White &
If you are are (or know of a firm) facing a firm leadership
transition or even having a new office managing partner taking the reins of one
of the larger offices, please have a look at: www.first100daysmasterclass.com
The next program is scheduled for February 7th at the University of Chicago
and we are now accepting registrations. Have a look at the day’s
agenda, the faculty, the testimonials, the extensive course materials, the
follow-up support and your total satisfaction guarantee.
Post #641 - Monday, December 31, 2012
New Year Greeting
"Our year end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going forward with all of the wisdom that experience can instill in us."
Post #640 – Monday, December
2012 In ReviewI’m often asked about my consulting practice, what kinds of assignments I get called in on, for what sized firms; what I’m currently researching and writing about, and just generally how I spend my professional time. I looked back over my various activities during this past year. With some of these items (like clients served) activity is not a sufficient measure; results and the client’s satisfaction are really what counts (and to that end, you can find numerous client testimonials and commentary throughout this web site). But for purposes of looking at where one’s time is invested, here is what my year looked like:CLIENT FIRMS SERVED• Geographic Locations:82% U.S. Based 9% Canadian 9% Internationa• Nature of Assignments:46% developing / implementing strategic plans45% governance and leadership issues 9% client relations and marketing projects• Firm Size Range:19% firms of over 500 attorneys27% firms of 300 to 500 attorneys54% firms of 100 to 300 attorneysSPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS• Participated in presenting at 3 WebinarsThe Future of Legal Services (January)
Selecting Your Next Firm Leader (July)
The Firm Leader – COO Team: A Sensitive Balancing Act (November)• Participated in 6 Workshops & MasterClassesConference Chair & Presenter – Overcoming Lawyers’ Resistance To Change Conference (April)
Speaker – Legal Management Forum (May)
Facilitator – Practice Group Leaders Workshop (January, June & August)
Co-facilitator – First 100 Days Masterclass (August) THOUGHT LEADERSHIP• Authored or Contributed to 17 Articles in Publications including:American Lawyer Magazine
Legal Management Magazine
Canadian Lawyer Magazine
Of Counsel – Legal Practice and Management Report
SLAW – Cooperative Legal Weblawg
Leadership Foundation For Higher Education [UK]
Professional Marketing Forum’s PM Magazine [UK]• Initiated Research Project covering:The world of the firm leader – activity, interests, succession planning and next career moves.• Two new issues (Spring & Fall) of my International Review 24-page glossy magazine were produced and distributed to 2000 firm leaders.• Contributed Articles and Materials to 2 New Books:- Professional Service Firm Competitiveness: Beyond Strategy with Robert Sawhney (an e-Book published in Hong Kong)
- A Field Guide For Mobile Lawyers (e-Book, AttorneysAtWork.com)OTHER INITIATIVES: • Participated on Dr. Jim Hassett’s legal project management advisory board.• DOUBLED the size of my Linkedin site – Law Firm Leaders – to more than 190 members. Law Firm Leaders is the ONLY social networking site exclusively for the chairs and managing partners of firms of over 100 lawyers in size - with 62% representing leaders from firms of 100 to 300 lawyers; 16% from firms of 300 to 500 lawyers and another 19% coming from firms of over 500 attorneys.• Received numerous “unsolicited” LinkedIn Endorsements for my strategic planning expertise from firm leaders and senior professionals from major firms including:Baker & McKenzie
Skadden Arps In spite of the challenges we face in the world, I am extremely thankful for the privilege of doing what I do. I might call this brief snapshot my personal Annual Report.To everyone: I want to say thank you for allowing me to serve and spend time with you; for your confidence and your commitment. To my valued clients: I look forward to being of service to you again in the future.To my colleagues and friends: thanks for being a gift in my life.I wish you and your families the Very Best for 2013.A Christmas PoemI have a list of folks I know, all noted in a book; and every year at Christmas time, I go and take a look.
That is when I realize, that these names are but a small part, not of the book they’re written in, but of my grateful heart.
Every name stands for someone, whose path touched mine and then, left a special imprint and memory, that I yearn to touch again.
While it sounds fantastic for me, to even admit such a claim, I really feel I am truly blessed, by each remembered name.
And every year when Christmas comes, I realize anew, the greatest gift that life can give is meeting folks like you.
So may the spirit of Christmas, that forever and ever endures, leave its many blessings, in the hearts of you and yours.
Post #639 – Thursday,
December 13, 2012
2013: Time To Review Your Strategy
we slowly close off another year and look to the prospects of 2013, one of the
things that I sense that firms everywhere are in need of is a new strategy for
growth. Firm leaders are recognizing, as they catch their breathe after
months of flat demand, that the old strategies they have been pursuing are
unlikely to take them where they need to go. Indeed, conventional approaches to developing
strategic plan in law firms – those lengthy protracted internal debates that
lead to developing monumental documents detailing the firms direction over the
coming five-years – seems to now belong to a bygone era.
what are leading firms doing today to advance setting their strategic
direction? Unsurprisingly, they are holding their current strategic plans
in abeyance while they explore how they might need to adapt to trends that
portend changes in their fundamental business models, while also figuring out
how to navigate their way through this period of economic uncertainty.
slightly differently, the executive committees of more firms are beginning to
engage in an Adaptive Strategy Review – scheduling a couple of days to
discuss and explore what new trends, developments and issues (signals) will
potentially impact their firm going forward and what actions they need to take
NOW! In one of my most recent review sessions our singular agenda
topic was: “At the dawn of 2013, what
will our legal profession look like, in three short years (2016), and what
should we be starting to do now to get to the future first?”
process for strategic planning has changed. Your strategy needs to be
constantly evolving. While the eternal truths – about determining your
target markets and how you reach them, what specific practices may be evolving
that you need to be in, the value promise that leads clients to choose you,
hard-to-copy advantages that help you differentiate your firm; and how your
resources are aligned – endure; however, a more dynamic and adaptive approach
is now needed. Firm Leaders need to be more flexible, resilient and ready
to make necessary adjustments and changes.
approach to law firm strategy taught by business schools and practiced by most firms is relentlessly 'left brain' - it's
focused almost exclusively on 'the numbers' - on data analysis and on formal detailed plans, with strategy sessions the exclusive preserve of a few senior
strategies aren't the product of rational analysis alone. They emerge when a
committed team puts its 'whole mind' to work, approaching strategy making
creatively and collaboratively - to stimulate 'strategic intuition' and
insight, and build buy-in and belief amongst the teams that must make the
strategy happen. Great process isn't just about building the flexibility
needed to change direction at the drop of a hat, it's about bringing in 'new
voices' and different perspectives into the strategy process - encouraging
those who are prepared to challenge the profession’s status quo.
the strategy process isn't a 'nice to do', it is a 'must do' - and only real
improvement will feed directly through to your firm’s bottom line.
Post #638 – Tuesday,
December 4, 2012
Don’t Send That Rate-Increase Notification
There is a great article in
the new issue of Corporate Counsel magazine penned by Susan Hackett (the voice of in-house counsel at ACC for 22
years) entitled: Ending the HolidayTradition of Outside Counsel Rate-Increase Letters.
Susan poses this insightful
question to those firm leaders contemplating sending their
clients notices of billable rate increases: are you feeling pretty good about the odds that your
most valued assets—your clients and your top relationship partners—are going to
find this an overall productive and happy set of conversations that will leave
everyone feeling better about the firm?
She further cautions firm
leaders to hold off sending automatic rate-increase notices to their clients and offers
five logical reasons, reminding us:
• that clients have already finished approving their budgets for
2013 so any notice sent out now comes a bit late;
• that clients have ever more options to using “your” services –
from hiring more in-house staff to the non-law firm service providers who are
delivering services you used to provide;
• that law firms do not automatically have the right to
increased profitability just for showing up and that associates often make
more in base pay than many senior in-house lawyers;
• that if you are not the only provider of a very indispensable
legal service, you may just find yourself being replaced; and
• there is the distinct possibility that any rate increase “letter”
will do nothing but confuse and annoy those of your clients with the most matters
currently handled by your firm.
So, if your gut tells you,
that for any number of your valued clients, sending out some letter notifying
them of your increased 2013 rates might just have them exploring other options
– then you might want to seriously heed Susan’s advice. At the very least, dispense with sending out
written notices in favor of . . . investing serious time in some one-on-one
discussion with each of your clients.
AND most importantly, read
Susan’s sage advice for yourself, as I have only touched upon a few of the salient
points she so aptly makes in her article.
Post #637 – Wednesday,
November 28, 2012
Six Factors That Can Impede Firm Leader-COO Relationships
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to
participate in presenting at a Webinar entitled The Firm Leader-COO Team: A
Sensitive Balancing Act in Shared Responsibility. One of the questions that was asked by the
registrants was this one:
What are the danger signs and which factors greatly
impede the development of an effective Firm Leader-COO working relationship?
Here was my response.
One needs to keep in mind that the Firm Leader-COO
team, in a sense, is two people who have been forced to work together – rather
than having chosen the arrangement voluntarily. That is not intended to be pejorative, but the
reality is that a COO inevitably finds him or herself with a brand new boss
while at the same time, some new Firm Leader realizes that they now have to
work closely with an individual whom they may even know very well. We shouldn’t lose sight of that. So there are any number of factors that can
make this “forced marriage” rather challenging, if they are not conscientiously
From my observations and in speaking with Managing
Partners and COOs whom I have a great deal of regard for, at the top of my list
To read the complete
article – download the PDF.
The above represents my latest column for Slaw.ca
Slaw identifies itself as “a cooperative weblog on all things legal.”
Slaw has been publishing for five years and gets 30,000 unique visitors and
about 100,000 visits every month. For the past two consecutive years it
has been the winner of three different awards as the best legal blog. I’m
honored to have been asked to become a regular columnist and invite you to
comment on my latest meandering.
Susan Hackett @HackettInHouse
Patrick, you're good! @ConsultMcKenna
posts a great piece @Slaw_dot_CA
on firm Mgg Partners & Staff COOs:http://bit.ly/St19Mf
Post #636 – November 22,
Mistakes To Avoid As New
In a recent McKinsey article
entitled, Leading in the 21st Century,
the authors state: “when we meet with the men and women who run the world’s
largest organizations what we hear with increasing frequency is how different
everything feels from just a decade ago.
Leaders tell us that they are operating in a bewildering new environment
in which little is certain, the tempo is quicker and the dynamics are more
complex. They worry that it is
impossible for CEOs to stay on top of all the things they need to know, to do
their job. Some admit they feel overwhelmed.”
a similar vein what we’ve learned about the transition that new law firm
leaders need to navigate their way through is that there are a number of
mistakes that some make in their very earliest days. Here are five that seem to be very common:
this appointment is about you, when it’s all about them
you begin your new role, it is quite seductive to take to heart all of the wonderful
best wishes, congratulations and accolades. You will only succeed when you recognize the
truth – you may be the firm’s leader, but your partners don’t work for
you. You now work for them and they have
just become your most important client.
2. Hitting the ground running, before hitting the ground
come to this position with lots of ideas about what you want to accomplish and
the temptation will be there to hit the gas-peddle. But slow down to go fast. Take time to get to
know what your partners are thinking about the important issues of the day. Remember always, that you can only move your
firm to the outer limits of your partners’ appetites for change!
3. Forgetting to inform people about how best to work with you
you take charge you will be working with an established team with established
work patterns and habits. Important to
them is to learn how you like to operate:
How do you prefer to receive information – in person, by phone, in writing?
Is your door open or do you prefer that people arrange appointments?
Do you have any pet peeves that people should know about?
How do you feel about being called at home?
Help those who report to you, learn how to work with you.
4. Confusing change with transition
is external, it happens to you; while transitions are internal, they happen
inside of you. Change starts at a
beginning and will be remembered by the date you assumed office. Transitions start with an ending – a process
of letting go of the way things were. Pay
conscious attention to how you manage this transition – from finding ways to
honor the past with a symbolic ritual or ceremony and thinking of ways to bring
the best of the past into the future – to – communicating frequently about what
is changing and what is not.
5. Overlooking the power of small wins
firm leader began her term with an initiative wherein numerous of the
professionals and staff throughout the firm collaborated together in small task
forces to identify the firm’s “sacred cows” – those things that were being done
internally that made no sense, frustrated clients and impaired the delivery of
good service. She then set about having
these same task forces kill the sacred cows by either proposing ways to
effectively eliminate the past procedures, change behaviors and adopt new
approaches. Don’t ignore the power of
accomplishing a small win. Listen, look
around and find some small win that you can bring about.
Post #635 – Tuesday,
November 6, 2012
The Fall 2012 Issue
of International Review Is Now Available
The latest issue of my International Review 24-page magazine is hitting the desks of
law firm leaders everywhere. Once again this issue contains a number of
pragmatic articles on law firm management and strategy:
Too Thin - As shown by
Dewey & LeBoeuf’s collapse, widening compensation spreads can destabilize
• Is Your Compensation System A Problem? - If we never
billed another client by the hour, how would we compensate our fellow
Boomers Approaching Retirement: Notes From The LAB - How do you
handle the situation wherein a significant number of your partners are baby
boomers approaching retirement?
Time To Think Differently About Law Firm Strategy - In today’s
environment of declining demand for legal services, you must be able to
challenge conventional thinking in order to grow.
Management Metrics - Here are a
few unusual, unfamiliar and unorthodox, but vital metrics that I think are
worth ta king a look at in your firm.
I am pleased to have been putting out this magazine for
some years now. It essentially started when I first began mailing copies
of periodic articles I had authored to select managing partners back in the Fall
of 1998. Today, I am (to the best of my knowledge) the only law firm
consultant to consistently publish his own magazine for firm leaders.
If for some reason, you haven’t received your Fall 2012 International Review
magazine, either click on the cover above to download a PDF copy or kindly send
me a note and I will be pleased to get a hard copy sent off in the mail to you.
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