With associate hiring levels starting to recover from their post-housing crash lows, many law firms are refocusing on a perennially challenging issue: attorney development. Some firms are experimenting with business and finance education, while others have adopted the practice of secondment, in which firms loan their lawyers to clients for a temporary period. But the underlying issue – how best to train new lawyers – remains.
A key difficulty is the fact that attorney development falls on the shoulders of firm partners, who are also lawyers with clients and heavy workloads. The Harvard Business School’s Jack Gabarro and Thomas DeLong, with consultant Robert Lees, addressed this issue of “producing managers” in their 2007 book, When Professionals Have to Lead: A New Model For High Performance. In a chapter on professional services firms (PSFs), they explain:
The melding of producer and manager roles creates unique issues for PSFs. For example, heads of practice groups and office managing partners continue to practice as lawyers, investment bankers, auditors, or consultants in practice-based firms. Also, “producing managers” typically exist in all but the highest levels of very large PSFs such as the global IT consulting firms, the Big Four accounting firms, and large law firms. However, even in these large firms, leaders at the client-service-group level are inevitably producing managers. In this respect, leaders in PSFs are not just providing direction, they are also deeply involved in the execution of client work. They both execute and direct others who execute.
But as the authors go on to discuss, time and energy constraints often combine with increasing client demands to push producing managers away from management in favor of production. At law firms, this can result in languishing attorney development.
How then can busy partners make room for their firms’ attorney development, while continuing to offer exceptional service to their clients? DeLong, Gabarro and Lees propose a solution of integrated leadership, in which professional services managers lead by setting direction, gaining commitment to the direction, and executing, while setting a personal example for associates and junior partners of how to handle client demands and substantive work.
It is that final component – the personal example – that the authors contend is the key to integrating management with client work. If partners view attorney development as an extension of their substantive work, they may find there is less tension between their dual roles as managers and lawyers.
To elaborate on this issue and other leadership challenges law firms face, Jack Gabarro, an emeritus professor of human resource management at Harvard Business School, will present a case study on Leading in a Time of Economic Uncertainty, at the Hildebrandt Institute’s 10th Annual COO & CFO Forum, October 20-21, in New York, NY.
Posted by Emily Fisher