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Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations


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Rant #767 – Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Law Firms Suffer The Behavior They Tolerate

93% of AmLaw 100 firms have experienced bullying, a lack of respect, and “me-first” attitudes among their ranks, despite 87% of them reporting how important it is to have written value statements sufficiently specific to ensure behavior that is consistent with those values.  In the first of a series of Leader’s Pulse Surveys, consultants David J. Parnell and Patrick J. McKenna find from the survey results of 124 responding firms (both in and out of the AmLaw 100) that partly to blame is that only one in four firms “have any clear and tough sanctions for behavior that does not comply with their values”. Further, firm leaders tolerate bad behavior among their partners, and often among those who may be considered their higher performing colleagues.

What Kinds Of Bad Behavior?

The top five most common detrimental behaviors that firm leaders cited, say Parnell and McKenna, include: “bullying behavior and lack of respect” (by 89% of respondents); “not being a team player with a ‘me-first’ personal agenda” (84%); “poor matter management habits like getting in time, etc.” (80%); “failure to achieve work quality standards” (76%); and “negative attitude infecting others” (69%).

Among the AmLaw 100 respondents, while these top five were the same, there was a three-way tie at the #1 spot with “poor matter management habits like getting in time, etc.”; “bullying behavior and lack of respect”; and “not being a team player with a ‘me-first’ personal agenda” – all scoring at 93%. 

Parnell and McKenna reported that there was no shortage of additional examples of bad behavior raised by numerous leaders: “blocking the advancement of others and acting out”; “failing to share credit and failing to treat staff with respect”; “not managing files to a budget”; “big egos engaged in internal empire building”; “failing to address and support diversity issues”, and even “general poor behavior: the ‘- - - hole factor’.”

Fear Of Addressing The Problem

“It is our view,” say Parnell and McKenna, “that a significant number of firm leaders feel deeply uncomfortable with confronting the inappropriate behavior of their colleagues, thereby delaying or even preventing intervention altogether.”  By way of supporting evidence, their survey results indicate that when firms were asked whether discomfort among leadership in challenging detrimental actors has been strong enough to delay addressing the problem, they were told that that was indeed the case in 41% of the firms – about which, they opined, “if we think about it, is a pretty tough question for many leaders to hear, given that they may have to admit some degree of failure.”

The authors of the survey went on to say, “We then went even a step further and inquired as to whether that ‘discomfort was strong enough to altogether prevent leaders from addressing the problem’, and had a surprising one out of four firms – 22% – freely admit that that was the case.”

The consultants report that a very telling observation came from one managing partner who said, “Any of the above could be actionable,” regarding the detrimental behavior elaborated upon in the survey, “but typically is limited to consideration in compensation for partners. However, the status of the partner and the amount of billings appears to affect what action, if any, is taken.” 

When asked about how they might confront bad behavior if-and-when they do, the survey uncovered that 82% of leaders would “first confront detrimental actors – one-on-one”, but with some reporting “not as often as we should” and “our less well managed groups and offices just ignore it until someone else has to deal with it.”

The Effectiveness Of Current Methods Of Intervention

So just how effective are those leaders who do confront bad actors within the firm? Many will see little real change in behavior!  In fact, sadly, the consultants were informed by 47% of the firms that “our detrimental actors have been repeat offenders despite intervention.” Some of these firm leaders reported a range of responses from “the intervention is often tepid and carried out by the wrong people” to “these actors repeat but less frequently and less severely.”

The consultants conclude: “What is clear to us is that law firm leaders, in order to protect their important cultural and competitive standing, need to not only more actively encourage behavior consistent with their stated firm values, but to also confront those acting out quicker and with more effective methods than they seem to be doing currently.  As one firm leader expressed it best, ‘These kinds of problems don’t go away on their own and they certainly don’t improve with age.’”



Rant #766 – Thursday, October 13, 2016

Succession Planning Is Inevitable

Other than taxes and death, the only other sure thing that will happen in all organizations is succession planning.  Failure to plan for succession is, perhaps, the greatest current threat to the future of professional firms and should be one of your most important strategic issues.  Since the issue won't go away or won't be resolved by itself, it is critical to have your firm management or the partner group address this issue rather than ignoring it.

Please join me on October 27th for a special Webinar on Succession Planning where I will be joined by:

August Aquila, founder and CEO of Aquila Global Advisors and a key thought leader for professional service firms.

Vincent A. Cino, the Chairman of Jackson Lewis P.C. a Global 100 law firm and responsible for the entire firm's day-to-day administration and management.

William Herman, former Managing Partner from 2001–2009 at Plante Moran, he was on the firm's leadership team from 1995–2001 and launched the Ann Arbor office in 1982.

You can obtain further details HERE



Post #765 – Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Fall-Winter 2016 Issue of International Review Is Now Available

INTERNATIONAL REVIEW is my 24-page glossy, printed magazine, distributed to over 1600 law firm chairs and managing partners throughout North America.

Our Fall-Winter issue begins with Your Guide To Charting A Strategic Direction For Your Practice Groups.  You may recall that in my “Bring Your Strategy Process Back To Life” article (see my Spring-Summer 2016 issue) I advocated for making your practice groups the key building blocks for your firm’s future direction.  I reported on how “there is nothing more exciting than to observe lawyers enthusiastically devoting their limited and precious non-billable time into developing new and potentially lucrative practice niches.”  This article is intended to serve as your hands-on guide to understanding how to make this happen in your firm.

I was delighted to join some old friends, Vincent Sergi, Chairman Emeritus, Katten Muchin Rosenman; Edwin Reeser, occasional article co-author and former office Managing Partner of an AmLaw 40 firm; and Nick Jarrett-Kerr, Principal with Edge International UK in conducting a Webinar together.  The Underproductive Lawyer: Addressing Performance Issues is a transcript of some of my remarks in response to the questions posed.

Effective Leaders Are Not Necessarily Nice is a counterintuitive reminder on how, while we may all want to be liked, admired and perceived as loyal to our colleagues, we need to remember that “nice” leaders don’t always enforce rules or take on difficult situations which can ultimately contribute to their not producing results.

Finally, Solving The ‘Commitment Drift’ Frustration is some straight-forward guidance on how to prevent the situation wherein well-meaning partners may make promises to you and their fellow group members, but don’t always follow through.

As always, I sincerely hope that you find practical ideas, tips and techniques here that you can put to use immediately.  Please send me your candid observations, critiques, comments and suggestions with respect to any of these articles.

Click on the Cover to download your complimentary PDF copy of the magazine.



Post #764 – Monday, August 29, 2016

New Law Firm Leadership Testing Results

A new study emanating from the UK attempts to investigate the influence of personality on leadership potential in lawyers.  Based on the responses from over 100 lawyers the research found that lawyers are less able to cope with uncertainty and less suited to handle difficult situations, than are other professionals.

Edward Walker, a psychology postgraduate at Leeds University and former law firm graduate recruiter who conducted the study, reported that this research has interesting implications for identifying and developing leaders in law firms: ‘Cognitive ability and personality traits are the two most reliable predictors of future success; it therefore makes logical sense that firms pay careful attention to both when recruiting and developing their lawyers.’

You may access and read Edward’s 7-page report: The Influence of Personality on The Leadership Potential of Lawyers



Post #763 – Thursday, August 25, 2016

Innovative Design For Your Law Office

Visiting one of my clients in Washington DC recently, I was struck by a number of the innovative features that were contained within their Reception area, which was a sharp contrast to some of the more sterile environments that many firms seem to create.  In a similar manner I came across and was thoroughly impressed by the work on Nick Kazakoff, co-founder of OneTwoSix Design and recently profiled by Western Living Magazine (August issue) as one of a handful of rising design stars –  “Industrial Designers To Watch.”

One standout piece is their Loop phone booth (shown here)—a modern glass-and-maple soundproof phone booth that provides privacy for confidential phone calls or for working on your laptop, in open-concept offices.  “It’s so creative and so practical,” says Judge Paolo Cravedi.

And, given the increasing costs of downtown commercial real estate and the decreasing sizes of both partners and associate's offices these days, this innovation may just work as an office for some of your professionals.

For more information, have a look at Nick’s website - http://onetwosix.design



Post #762 – Friday, August 5, 2016

Skills Women Need To Be Successful Leaders

A session recently organized by Cadwalader explored the skills that women need to be successful leaders:

    Cultivate your own leadership style and find your own voice, deriving confidence through competence.  It's also important to avoid being too self-critical. 

    Welcome not only positive feedback, but honest and constructive appraisals. Entrepreneurialism is also important - for example, looking for opportunities and making the most of them.

    In general, women are good team managers, adept at conflict resolution and juggling various personalities and logistical demands. Women's capacity to encourage and motivate the marginalized allows them to bridge gaps more naturally and find common ground.

    When negotiating salary offers, let your negotiating counterpart know that you understand their position and that your own position is legitimate and justifiable. Showing effective negotiation skills enhances women's role in a firm.

    Firms need to show greater commitment to supporting their female talent through key career crossroads, and by encouraging men to take paternity leave.

    The global competitive environment places a premium on leaders who can encourage and guide their teams, and the growth of strong women's networks and sponsorship programs provide the support and opportunities crucial to advancement.

Women should feel empowered and ask for what they believe they deserve.  Confidence backed by a logical argument is a winning combination.

The panel discussion was moderated by Claire Cockerton, Chairwoman, Entiq, and Co-Founder of Innovate Finance, and included Eileen Herlihy, Executive Director and EMEA Head of Clearing Sales, J.P.Morgan; Cathryn Lyall, Chief Operating Officer, CurveGlobal, London Stock Exchange Group; Joanna Nader, Chief Investment Officer, JRJ Group; Meryam Omi, Head of Sustainability, Legal & General Investment Management; and Louisa Watt, Partner and Head of Cadwalader's Debt and Claims Trading Practice. 



Post #761 – Monday, August 1, 2016

Solving The ‘Commitment Drift’ Frustration

If there is one single frustration that I hear from firm and practice leaders on a continual basis it is trying to determine how to deal with the “commitment drift” of those partners who make promises but don’t always follow through. In other words, how do you ensure task completion on important projects when your partners agree to do something at the implementation stage, and you’re uncertain that you will see the necessary committed follow-through?

Whether it is in a practice group setting, around the table with the members of your Strategic Planning Committee, or wherever colleagues are meeting, this seems to be one of the most common challenges. That said, there are seven important steps you can take to ensure results (in most cases):

Read the remainder of my latest column on Legal Executive Institute



Post #759 – Monday, July 25, 2016

The Underproductive Lawyer: Addressing Performance Issues

One of the more difficult decisions that any firm leader or practice group leader will be faced with, is having to confront (and possibly remove) someone on your team who is no longer “pulling their weight.”  When faced with this challenge (and you definitely will be at some point in your leadership tenure) one must understand that the consequences of taking decisive action are rarely as dire as they may seem at first glance.  Nevertheless, there are numerous reasons why intelligent and capable leaders will go to great lengths to avoid taking any action.  In reality, not taking action is the same as announcing that you will continue accepting unacceptable performance.

There are various ineffective ways in which law firms try to signal underperformance - from pointing out the individual’s shortcomings in vague comments that we hope the person understands, to changing the manner in which they are compensated. Given that de-equitizing underperforming partners can be a blow to the ego of the affected attorney, and also erode the morale of others, how should this situation be approached?

This one-hour webinar will address some of the structural issues that firms need to improve upon or develop in order best to deal with performance issues going forward (i.e. setting expectations, defining roles, developing a performance management framework, and methods of assessment, etc).  

Join leaders of Arent Fox; Fried Frank; DLA Piper; Freshfields; McGuire Woods; Weil Gotshal; and others at my Wednesday Webinar on Lawyer Underperformance



Post #758 – Monday, July 11, 2016

MBA Workshop Series

I’m honored to be included on the Faculty of Leaders Excellence in the conduct of their new MBA Workshop Series.

You can participate in this online executive development program  - highly interactive sessions with MBA topics at MBA level by MBA faculty and guest star leadership experts.  These online workshops are designed for those seeking cross-functional management and leadership development. The online program covers the latest thoughts on leadership and management along with the classical ideals that form the foundations of current practices.

Each workshop consists of 1 hour of effective online lecturing and is presented LIVE in our online study rooms in order to provide you with inspirational ideas, penetrating insights, and practical advice from MBA faculty and leadership experts.  If requested by the professor, each workshop can be prolonged up to 30 minutes.

You will be exposed to key manage­ment and leadership topics that drive organ­i­za­tional growth. Our faculty will offer key concepts and tools in HR management, business communication, effective leadership, differentiation-driven decision making, competitive strategy, negotiation techniques and strategies, executive compensation, intercultural communication, corporate governance, and more.

More information can be obtained from - Leaders Excellence of Harvard Square



Post #757 – Monday, July 11, 2016

Involving Law Firm Leaders In Selecting Their Successors

I had a partner, on the executive committee of an AmLaw 200 law firm, pose the following question to me:

“Our managing partner has confirmed that he will be stepping down at the conclusion of his current term. He is now recommending to us on the executive committee that it would be expedient for him to select his successor. He informs us that that is a common and expected practice within the business community (e.g. Jack Welch at GE) and there are a number of large AmLaw firms (Jones Day, for example) where this is the accepted leadership succession practice. From your work with managing partners, what is your experience?”

My response?   Read this article


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