A recent survey of 75 managing partners of mid-size firms, i.e. mostly 20-75 lawyers, gave an interesting picture of the challenges those leaders are facing. For starters, these MPs have no job description, no identified successor and no exit strategy.  They are provided with no leadership training, and do not have a finalized firm strategic plan that is followed, even though they think they should have one that is.

Financially, these MPs seem to consider their firms stable.  They have increased their headcount, were reasonably profitable this past year and expect the same for the upcoming year.

Their time is not spent on initiating changes calculated to produce long term success, as they believe is their primary responsibility.  Instead, they are mostly occupied with administrative work and making partners play nicely in the sandbox–building consensus, teamwork, and dealing with under-performers.

Their primary challenge this past year was managing conflict, according to 40% of them, while another 23% were most taxed by partner revolt and upheaval. Asked “Which film best describes your firm?” 35% of managing partners chose “Grumpy Old Men.”

The dilemma these managers face is how to identify and then follow through on strategies and innovations that are likely to raise their firm above the fray that is fast becoming “the old model,” one that can still have some profit squeezed out of it with careful day-to-day attention, but is ultimately doomed to lower growth and profitability. The dilemma is how to do that with the cooperation of their partners, that is.

The reason the MPs are not able to devote themselves to helping their firms become the next-generation model is that their troops are difficult and time-consuming to manage on both a day-to-day and longer-term basis.  The personalities of their lawyers make tremendous demands on anyone trying to produce a unified culture and brand.  Those lawyers do not like to be told what to do, how to do it or why to do it.  They recognize no authority other than themselves, abhor change–to their minds simply an exercise in risk–and are accomplished passive resisters. The MPs end up putting out interpersonal intra-firm fires and assuaging angry clients rather than positioning the firm for the future.

The take-away from the mid-sized firms survey seems clear.  Now is the time to manage actively and prospectively as a unified firm and not as a reaction forced by feuding personalities who monopolize management time–yet that is what we are in fact doing.

Do as I say, not as I do?

Yet these same partners are exceedingly bright, often very good at what they do and open  to expert persuasion.  The challenge is to know how to approach and influence them.

Law People Management offers expertise founded on behavioral science to help your firm achieve the consensus needed to unite and move forward.  Now is the time.