I will be facilitating a strategic planning session for an office of a large firm this week. If the office successfully creates a meaningful plan it will be focused on a collaborative effort to achieve the agreed goals. Sounds easy doesn’t it?

Five years ago David Maister wrote an article aptly titled: Are Law Firms Manageable? In the article, Maister says:

The single biggest source of trust in an organization occurs when everyone can be depended upon to act in accordance with a commonly held, strictly observed set of principles.

I think the problem is very few law firms have “a commonly held, strictly observed set of principles.” In my old firm the partners never wanted to acknowledge that fact.

Brickwall.pngAfter the article was published my friend, Roger Hayse and I were chatting about whether a law firm can be successful with no consensus among the partners on the direction or the values of the firm.

He showed me a chart he had done with a list of statements on the left and 1-5 on the right with 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree. His list included things like profits per partner, collegiality, holding firm members accountable, teamwork, client service, work-life balance and a variety of other topics.

Roger told me that if the super majority of lawyers in a firm either strongly agreed with an item or strongly disagreed, that would be ok. But, if a good number strongly agreed and a like number strongly disagreed, that would make it very difficult to lead the firm.

I have been a part of firms where the partners did not agree on direction and values. Those firms are typically led by a person who is frequently called a benevolent dictator. Since lawyers are so autonomous, there is no way that leadership by a benevolent dictator can last for any extended period of time.

If a firm’s lawyers agree on what they want, a charismatic law firm leader can take the firm to the next level. He can create a powerful vision of what the firm can accomplish and then energize the firm lawyers to achieve it. I believe many partners want to be part of that kind of firm with that kind of leader.

Are there a super majority of lawyers in your firm, your office or your practice group who agree on what they want? If there are, imagine what you can do as a collaborative team. If not, leading your lawyers will be extremely challenging.