“Leadership is the art of setting direction for others and getting them to move in that direction with competence and commitment.” — Elliott Jacques and Stephen Clement

Speaking truth to power: Now is the time for managers to lead and leaders to emerge in law firms of all sizes. Power is spread among individuals in a partnership. In law firms, that power is restricted to attorneys, who were trained to practice law and more often focus on getting results. Strong leadership keeps law firms aligned among highly independent and skeptical thinkers.

Stephen Mayson in Law Firm Strategy wrote, “Those who have difficulty with the concept of organizational capital are usually regarding their own individual performance and contacts as key to the firm’s productivity and competitive success.” The challenge for the managing partner is to keep high-achieving individuals invested and “firm-first.”

Aligning the ecosystem
If a law firm is an ecosystem, as described by Willie Pietersen in Reinventing Strategy, it can only function if its interdependent parts are aligned and work in unison. The supporting elements are measures and rewards, structure and process, culture and people. Alignment empowers people to initiate actions. In a productive climate, the staff feels the flexibility to innovate, a sense of responsibility, clarity of mission and values, and commitment to a common purpose. But alignment, according to Jay W. Lorsch and Thomas J. Tierney in their book Aligning the Stars, cannot exist without effective leadership.

Organizational structures provide stability and continuity and also define relationships between people. Regardless of the model, law firms require dual expertise: professional know-how, the ability to produce legal services; and managerial know-how, the production and distribution of those services. There is a challenge for the administrative manager, or other functioning department heads who are non-attorneys, to establish and assert their power with the attorneys in the firm.

As law firms grew in size, management became aligned with practice groups and committee structures. The managing partner typically appoints practice group chairs and the members of the operations committee. Administrative leadership, at the officer, director or manager level in law firms is accountable for managing the work of others, maintaining a staff, and providing leadership.

Measures and Rewards
As the adage goes, “What gets measured gets done. What gets rewarded gets done repeatedly.” Appropriate measures are both a gauge of progress and a signal that the firm places importance on a particular strategy. Pietersen says you must make “deliberate shifts in your measurement and reward system to reflect the crucial priorities of your new strategy.” The reward of promotion brings added responsibility for managing partners, who usually move into such roles after proving themselves at their client work.

The promotion process itself reflects competencies at both the operational and partnership level: management must recognize capabilities as well as attitudes and values. One emerging strategy is to adjust the compensation model to reward improvement in competency and attitude at both partnership and operational level.

People will only be motivated when their jobs provide opportunities for achievement, recognition, responsibility, growth and advancement. Administrative managers need to know their people well enough to assess what motivates them and to provide the opportunities to attain those motivators. Managing partners need to know the partners and practice area leaders, who need to know their teams well enough to provide similar opportunities for business development at the partner level, and matter responsibility at the associate level. The successful work environment meets these needs and simultaneously accomplishes the work in progress.
In diagnosing problems in the firm environment, both managing partner and executive director have to pay attention to the underlying factors that negatively impact motivation: Is the underlying factor a matter of perception, incentive, or expectation? Is the situation brought about by employee aptitude, the need for training or resources? Analysis requires that all managers are attuned to this level of inquiry before steps are taken to resolve problems in the environment.

Read the entire article at NJEsq online.