Law People

Notes from the Futures Conference: Part 2

The following is a second installment about some of the highlights from this year’s Futures Conference of the College of Law Practice Management held at Georgetown Law School the end of October:

Hiring and Training Successful Lawyers

Georgetown Law School reported on two research projects they are undertaking--“Integration and
Fragmentation in the Modern Law Firm” and “Developing Attorneys from the Future: What Can We Learn from the Fast Trackers?” The first concluded that one of the essential and most challenging aspects of integrating lawyers into a cohesive law firm is the issue of establishing and building trust, a conclusion consistent with lawyers’ psychological profile of high skepticism and low sociability. The research indicated that leaders who have legal expertise, good judgment, open communication, place the firm above their personal interests and use fair and transparent processes were better able to generate a trusting environment. Similarly, partners with shared values who are responsive to each other and share credit are more cohesive.

The second research project reviewed one firm’s competency model to determine what attributes the top performers had. Their conclusion was that these young lawyers had “emotional strength” so as to be calm under pressure, proactive mental strength (able to internally generate motivation and persist against challenges), a strong drive to achieve and be recognized for achievement, and a strong sense of their personal strengths and boundaries. With respect to their work assignments, they were flexible (“agile” is the latest buzzword) when approaching problems, open to different solutions and willing to take ownership of the result. Their primary interpersonal attributes were an ability to build and use social networks and desire to influence others, while maintaining a reasonable emotional distance from colleagues that kept them from getting mired in too intimate aspects of others’ lives.  Note that most if not all of these fast-tracker attributes are indicators of high emotional intelligence, an attribute that was not directly tested.

Of course, when you combine our new model law firms (mentioned in the last entry) who hire only senior, experienced lawyers, clients who refuse to pay for the work of young associates and the cutback in BigLaw hiring, the problem arises of how the legions of lawyers not starting in BigLaw are going to get the appropriate training to be trusted advisers in a complicated legal world?

What Makes Managing Partners Successful

John Michalik, author of “The Extraordinary Managing Partner,” recapped his survey asking 75 managing partners what made them successful. The three answers given unprompted by more than 70% of the respondents were:

• PRESERVING AND DEVELOPING FIRM CULTURE—the undertaking that the MP panelists all admitted was a much higher priority and took much more time than any of them anticipated.  And becomes even more challenging with lateral hires and satellite offices.

• OBTAINING AND BUILDING CONSENSUS—which does not mean unanimity but certainly means more than a democratic majority and, as Charles Vigil of Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb opined, most often requires MBWA (Management By Walking Around).

• SEEING AND CREATING THE BIG PICTURE—a surprise to Michalik, this role was the most frequently mentioned one, at the top of almost all MPs surveyed. 

Thomas Grella, author of “The Lawyers’ Guide to Strategic Planning,” and managing partner of McGuire Wood & Bissette, noted that with such rapid change in the marketplace taking place now, firms often can’t take the time anymore to go through a lengthy planning process. They have to be willing to try things now, eliminate the efforts that don’t succeed and try again.

Echoing the earlier panel, this group said that their biggest challenge to successfully leading their firms remains finding and developing legal talent.

The next and final Futures Conference installment will include reports back from General Counsel on what they want and aren't getting.

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