Law Firm Management

Those Who Got Away

Let me tell you about a lawyer named Josh. Josh was not very good. Everybody said so, especially the partner who was his practice group leader.  Eventually the firm redirected Josh’s career path. He moved on and started his own practice. Josh did very well on his own. He developed a great reputation in the profession practicing the same type of law that he was not good enough to practice at his old firm.

A few years later, the practice group at his old firm was very busy. They searched for lawyers to join the department but found it difficult to find the right person. Someone suggested that they contact Josh and ask him if he wanted the position. So they did. Josh just laughed.

I wish that I could say that Josh was the only great lawyer who slipped through that firm’s hands, but alas, there were many. Not all of them were fired because the firm thought that they were bad at what they did. They left for various reasons. Some were treated poorly by their supervising lawyers. Others did not bill enough hours due to personal circumstances. Still others failed due to inadequate mentoring. A few could not cope with the pressure and decided to try their luck elsewhere.

I sometimes imagine the legal powerhouse that could be assembled from lawyers who used to work for that firm.

And then I think of how many of those lawyers would still be there if only their supervisors had some basic human resource skills and leadership abilities and the firm was prepared to provide them with real support as they matured, developed in the profession, and went through different stages of life.

The other day a young mentee told me about his firm having posted information about the billings of the associates in his department. His billings were not very good compared to the others, although he had been working just as hard. He shared how it made him feel to be embarrassed in front of his peers. I will give you a hint:  it did not engender loyalty to the firm.

My young friend learned the important lesson that he had to improve his docketing, but surely the lesson could have been delivered in a gentler way.  But no, that firm apparently feels that internal competition, unaccompanied by training, is a good thing.

Maybe this firm will lose this young associate, who from all reports may develop into an excellent lawyer if given some encouragement and treated fairly. Maybe they won’t lose him. But if they do, it will have been for no particularly good reason.

For an industry which is all about finding, motivating, and retaining good people, it always amazes me how little effort (and money) law firms put into human resources management. A good start to improving the situation would be to stop expecting lawyers with no training in human resources to be good people managers. I really do wonder what idiot thought up that idea and why it has survived so long.

One reply on “Those Who Got Away”

For all our amazing traits, us lawyers tend to be quite confident in our abilities in areas outside of law.

Take, for instance, the design and construction of the Erie Canal. Rather than get a civil engineer from Europe, which was led by two judges (who also brought along an engineer with no experience of canals or bridges, and a Math teacher).

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