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Ed Poll
  Week of September 24, 2007

Quit Working and Start Leading!
True Leaders Are the Key to
Law Firm Success

Earlier this year, in press reports about a potential and ultimately unconsummated merger between two high-profile law firms, a startling fact emerged: the managing partner of one firm logged 3,300 billable hours in the most recent calendar year, while the managing partner of the other had not practiced law in over a decade. The difference in management cultures may not have spelled the end of the merger, but it does point out that many law firms continue to manage themselves differently from other business organizations. Lee Iacocca stopped designing cars when he moved into top management of Ford and then Chrysler. The head coach of a championship football team can't fill that role and be both offensive and defensive coordinator. Are law firms truly that different from either of these examples?
One big impediment to change is that the vast majority of lawyers who manage their law firm, whether it is only a few lawyers or the gigantic many-hundreds-of-lawyers firm, still have billable hours because they don't get paid for also taking on the role of "managing partner." How to compensate lawyers for their management role when the primary focus of the firm is on billable time is a major issue. It's a simple fact that people will excel in that for which they're rewarded. If a firm doesn't pay the managing partner for his or her efforts in this endeavor, the performance of that function—management—will get short shrift.
There are at least two dangers to this. First, the rules of professional conduct in many states provide that partners and other lawyers with managerial authority in a law firm must take reasonable measures—and sometimes are personally responsible—for ensuring that all lawyers in the firm conform to the ethical responsibilities of the Rules. If firm leaders still have a major focus on rainmaking and their own billable hours, they may not be paying proper attention to catch the errors of others. Second, in many of today's geographically diverse megafirms, partners are that in name only. As the governance of these large firms has fallen to a very few in the organization, the remaining partners often have little interaction outside their own practice areas. No matter what the size of the firm, unless leadership takes the time to foster continuous, open, and candid communication among equity partners, and acceptance and buy-in for the business plan chosen by the firm, sooner or later there will be a dissolution of the firm.
It's difficult to be a "worker" and a manager. All executives in corporate America had some kind of operational position before they became CEO—and all will agree that once you become the leader of the company, your old job has to be given to someone else. Lawyers don't follow this pattern. Perhaps that's why it's taken so long for law firms to act in a business-like way and focus on their primary challenge, client/customer service.

Ed Poll

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Ed Poll
Ed Poll

Personal Commentary
For those who may have wondered why we haven't sent out our electronic newsletter in a while, we spent some time updating our look. This is the first issue of our new format, a more modern feel … with high value content delivered in more "bite-size" chunks. Please let us know what you think by emailing your thoughts, comments and observations. And, oh yes, please tell me what topics you're challenged by and would like to see addressed in future editions.
Soon, I'll be on my "horse" … or bike … traveling across country to make presentations in Cleveland, Boston and Montreal (the calendar at provides complete information). I'm looking forward to meeting many of you in person during the month of October, and I'll also be stopping off in Sleepy Hollow, NY to visit grandchildren. If you're in or around NYC and want to get together, please let me know.
I'm excited about our new format and hope you will find it more enjoyable. Thanks for reading.
Best wishes,
Ed Poll

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