Post #903 – November 29, 2021

There is No Vaccine for a Lack of Leadership.

There are few people out there with bad intentions, but there are firm leaders with bad habits.  Last week I spent an hour on a call with the Managing Partner from a 200+ lawyer firm who was seeking my counsel on succession planning and specifically with replacing their practice and industry group leaders, many of whom were very senior and had been in their roles for well over a decade.  After being briefed, I began by asking five very basic questions:

First; do these group leaders have a formal, written job description?  Answer: “No.”

Second; do these leaders have a clear understanding of precisely how many non-billable hours they are expected to spend leading and managing the people on their teams?  Answer: “No.”

Third; have you provided these team leaders with any organized leadership training within the past three years, to help them enhance their individual performance?  Answer: “No.”

Fourth question; have these leaders be given any written expectations, (such as you must, as a group, meet at least once per month) of what your firm’s leadership is expecting of them as team leaders?  Answer: “No.”

Fifth question; do you, as the firm leader, meet with all of your team leaders to have them share and discuss their particular leadership challenges and successes with each other, at least once quarterly?  Answer: “No.”

Final and very serious question, why are you bothering to even have practice and industry teams?  Are these simply TINOs (teams in name only)?

Now, let me not leave anyone with the impression that this was, in any way, an isolated incident, or that the answers that I most often elicit from firm leaders, to these five questions, are wildly different in most other discussions that I’ve had.  

It is still the case in too many law firms that we form these teams and then we say to the team leader we want you to manage this group; and we are very good at demanding that our people perform, but are distressingly useless in helping our people succeed.  This is not a system designed to obtain measurable results.

So I guess the GOOD NEWS for those of you reading this is that your firm may continue to prosper in spite of itself, as most of your competitors perform just as pathetically.  Or as my good friend, David Maister used to say, “the savings grace for today's typical law firm is that they only have to compete against . . . other law firms.”

But SADLY, that is rapidly changing!  So, what are your plans for 2022?

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