Managing lawyers

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
― Plato

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”
― Anne Frank, diary of Anne Frank: the play

It’s the most hackneyed expression I know: managing lawyers is like herding cats.

Oh, really!

What you actually mean, is that you’ve got to deal with a group of people who don’t think like you. Or, who need to know more about you idea, thesis or one-dimensional plan that only serves a limited group, i.e. equity partners.

Don’t get me wrong, as contradictory as it may sound, lawyers are bloody hard to manage but no more so than any other group — e.g. builders, professional sports people and itinerant workers.

To be honest, the thing that’s (actually) missing is ‘management‘.


Yes, you heard me.

Let’s be honest, who is it that manages other lawyers?

Other lawyers? (The blind leading the blind…)

Are they professionally trained?

Not normally.

Are they high on the EI scale?

It’s questionable.

Do they know why they’re managing?

No. Normally it’s because they see it as a route to partnership or because no one else wanted the job!

You don’t need me to tell you that management is an art. I wouldn’t like to say that some people have it and others don’t, but there’s a huge difference between someone who gets the best out of their people by actively managing them, and those that rule by fear — which is more often the case.

But of course none of what I’m telling you is new. Indeed, since my earliest days in law (1996) nothing much has changed. It doesn’t need to be this way. Firms, which after all are private businesses, need to put more effort, resources and money to developing managers (and everyone) to their full capability. And please don’t tell me you do, because if you did then those in management wouldn’t still be asked to bill, deal with clients, network, deal with complaints and win clients to keep feeding all those hungry mouths.

No, they’d be managing full time.

Come on. It’s not rocket science.

One final thing: don’t forget that people leave companies because of their bosses not the company.

Sobering eh?

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