Lawyers and Management (Nature vs. Nurture?)

The nature versus nurture debate is not something that I have seen considered save in the context of a small amount of training around emotional intelligence (see the works of Daniel Goleman).

But think about it: Is the style of management that you practise, or more likely practised on you, something that is innate or developed by personal experience – the latter sometimes referred to as behaviourism? Of course what you witness or exhibit are the behavioural traits of management; but whence they came that is the question?

The reason for raising this issue is that if lawyers are not innately programmed to manage then where are they supposed to derive their ability to manage? Sounds churlish I know, but in the main it is observing or copying other lawyers.

Hang on……

That feels incredibly circuitous?

The point is that having witnessed managers from all manner of industry and commerce, I am still amazed how little (if any) attention is given to ensuring that lawyers are equipped to manage. It is almost like a Hey Presto moment. “I know they have just been promoted to Partner but they are bound to know what to do”. I’m afraid not.

By and large lawyers spend very little time on the Art of management and it is no surprise therefore that so many of them struggle when given the pleasure of managing. Notice I used the word “pleasure” because that is what it should be: shaping and building the careers of people who look to you for inspiration, motivation and direction.

How many times have you found yourself in a position where you feel ill-equipped to manage someone or a situation? Often I would imagine. And where do you turn to for help? Not always but more often than not it is those people who have been doing the job a lot longer than you. Not a bad start but the problem is, without resorting to crass generalisms, they have honed their skills in an era where their and their employees expectations were different. Talk to them about servant leadership or upwards review – sometimes wrapped up in a 360 degree appraisal – and they come a bit unstuck.

One thing that managers of today have got to get used to is that people now expect much greater involvement in the business (particularly those who are ambitious) and near complete transparency about what is going on. If you find yourself in this position it is not a case of managing in the classic top down sense but rather creating an environment of mutual trust, openness and transparency about the future of the firm and their place within it.

One component that is incredibly important that is still not practised nearly enough is the art of listening. And making quality time available for everyone.

In this new world of ABS etc. it is hugely important that law firms take the issue of management to a new level. It is not simply a case of each month chasing for unpaid bills, asking about whether unbilled WIP can be billed and then the cursory comment about the family. That pays lip service to the idea of management.

As to which camp I am in, well, I think, there is, in play, an element of both Nature and Narture but even if you are someone who does not feel immediately at home managing others that is no reason not to give it your very best shot.

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