Are you one of the “fortunate” lawyers in your firm to be leading a practice group or office? Is it clear what the firm expects from you? Does your firm compensate you in part for how well your group or office is doing?


I was a practice group leader. On the one hand, I wanted to lead and build something. On the other hand, I did not feel like a leader. I was a practice group manager.

When I was a practice group leader, the firm leaders put out a memo saying that practice group leaders were essential to the firm success. The memo was designed to energize us to become more effective leaders. I took the memo seriously, so I developed an action plan of activities I would do. Here is my list:


  • Meet one-on-one with each of the lawyers in the Practice Group and get their career goals and objectives.
  • Establish credibility with each of the lawyers in the Practice Group. Determine what motivates them, ask what they are working on and how I can help them.
  • Reduce billable hours by 200 annually and develop plan on using the 200 hours for leadership of the Practice Group.
  • Identify roles, use weekly planners to plan activities.
  • Establish performance criteria with members of the Practice Group. Get each member to agree on goals and an action plan. Provide on-going feedback as I spot the need on performance and suggestions for improvement. Look at all of each person’s accomplishments, and express appreciation before raising the bar.
  • Meet with each member of the Practice Group to find out which work in the past year he or she found most rewarding and why. Also find out which career tracts would provide greatest satisfaction. Have them list three actions they can take in the short term.
  • Determine strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and fears of each member of the Practice Group. (Write them down and remember.)

Later I discovered that even though firm leaders talked about how important I was as a practice group leader, they compensated me for bringing in business, not for being a practice group leader. As you might imagine, that discovery put a damper on my enthusiasm for working my practice group action plan because I knew that each hour I spent on my leadership efforts was an hour I was not spending on billable work or client development.

At the same time, each month I received reports on how each lawyer in my group was doing. I was always asked what I was doing to make sure the partners and associates met their billable hour requirements.

I grew tired of the monthly conversations about lawyers not performing in my group. So, I went to the firm leaders to make a point. I said:

What do you suppose would happen if 25% of my compensation was based on how well our practice group was performing as a group.

The leaders looked dumbfounded so I answered my own question. I said:

Don’t you suppose that if my compensation depended in part on the success of my group, I would spend more time working with the members of my practice group?

I think they got it, but rejected my idea.

Is your firm rewarding or punishing Practice Group and Office Leaders?