Somewhere in some law firm’s ‘closed files’ archive, there is probably a file with my name on it. The subject matter line likely reads something like, “Possible Sexual Harassment Claim.”
I have been reading about Deshaun Watson’s return to the NFL after serving a suspension as a result of allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Normally I do not like to rush to judgment when a person has been accused but not convicted of a criminal offence, since I believe in the presumption of innocence and all of that. But however you may feel about the allegations against Mr. Watson, he definitely has some ‘splaining to do.
What struck me in the account that I was reading was a statement from one of his alleged victims who said, “he can run and throw and that’s enough.” In other words, when someone has the ability to generate serious money, our culture will forgive pretty much anything.
I was the managing partner of a law firm once. I came to the job with little aptitude for management and even less experience and training. Of course, I was qualified to be the managing partner because I had high personal billings and a whole whack of originating credits.
Just about everything that I learned about stupidity in the realm of managing people, I learned from lawyers, much of it from my own mistakes. However, this time I will write about the failures at my friend Martin’s law firm instead.
At Martin’s firm, the Human Resources Manager convinced the Partners that it would be a good idea to initiate a program to recognize long-serving firm members, with the view of spreading the word to all members of the team that the firm valued loyalty.
When I first attended partners meetings, “what are other law firms doing?” was a question that I heard over and over. Whether the topic was a billable hour requirement, parental leave policy, marketing initiative, or just about anything else, the question of what other law firms were doing always seemed to be relevant.
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.
The other day my wife purported to correct something I said. I asked her how I could get her to stop doing that. She replied, “You could try being right once in a while.”
I just told my girlfriend, “I have written the first paragraph of my latest post, but I have nothing of value to say.” She replied, “That never stopped you before.”
Let’s cut to the chase: Law firms compensate lawyers for two things: (i) fees billed for their own work; and (ii) fees billed for work that they introduce to the firm which is done by someone else. (In theory there are some other things that matter also, but in practice you cannot get rich by doing any of them.)
You would think that in a profession where people are the most valuable asset, employers would develop some expertise around human resources. And yet, most lawyers know squat about it. That is not surprising. Most H.R. professionals do not know much about practicing law.
The magic of a franchise system is that someone brilliant develops a business system and then documents every step that must be taken to permit someone less capable to follow the system and replicate the results. So, wherever you go in North America, someone much less accomplished than Colonel Sanders can sell you a bucket of chicken that is just as tasty and unhealthy as the original.