Where BigLaw Leadership Trainings Falls Short

Where BigLaw Leadership Trainings Falls Short

There are few people out there with bad intentions, but there are firm leaders with bad habits. I recently spent an hour on a call with the managing partner of an AmLaw 200 firm who was seeking my advice on succession planning and specifically with their practice and industry group leaders, many of whom were very senior and had been in the role for well over a decade. I began our discussion by asking five very basic questions:

  1. Do these group leaders have a formal, written job description?  Answer: “No.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. Have these leaders been provided with any written expectations (e.g., you must, as a group, meet at least once per month) of what your firm’s leadership is expecting them to do with their teams?  Answer: “No.”
  5. Do you, as the firm leader, meet with all of your team leaders to have them share and discuss their particular problems and successes with each other, at least once quarterly?  Answer: “No.”

Final and very serious question, why are you bothering to even have practice or 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, is 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 lead this group, but there is no attempt to provide any effective leadership training — a guarantee that there will be no effective leadership or management in the system.  Another way of looking at this is to conclude that law firms are very good at demanding that their people succeed but are pathetically useless in helping their people succeed.  This is not a system designed to obtain maximum organizational performance.

From my observations over the years, and from speaking candidly with law firm professionals charged with overseeing training and professional development, I hear about how leadership development training, especially for practice and industry group leaders is so vitally important, but how the biggest contributor to wasted training dollars is ineffective methodologies.

David Maister

When my old friend David Maister and I wrote First Among Equals: How to Manage a Group of Professionals (2002), I checked Amazon, at the time, only to discover that there were already over 920,000 books listed under “Leadership” and concluded that all the world needed was one more.  But that said, if we look closely at these various Leadership books, one can quickly discern that most are written from a top-down corporate perspective and don’t often line up with the reality of professional services.  So, if we are not providing our people with training that fits with their real-world situations, we are sunk before we begin.

Patrick J. McKenna

To be very specific, there are seven distinct shortcomings I hear about and personally observe where I have to conclude that leadership training is all too often, an unfortunate waste of money. Fortunately, all of them can be corrected. Review the article to gain access to the seven areas on the Legal Evolution site. 

Authored by Patrick J. McKenna, an internationally recognized author, lecturer, strategist, and seasoned advisor to the leaders of premier law firms.

Credits to Legal Evolution - Bill Henderson, Professor of Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

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