Stephen P. Gallagher, President, LeadershipCoach.us

There is a great deal of research from the behavioral sciences supporting the notion that people prefer to spend time with people who are similar to themselves. However, if your firm hires only new people whom insiders like and feel comfortable being around, you should expect to continue to rely on ONLY past history, well-developed procedures, and proven technologies to grow your business. In these times when most companies are experimenting with new procedures, inventing and testing new technologies to satisfy customer demands, to enter new markets, and to gain an advantage over competition, hiring new kinds of people will be key for your firm’s survival. (1.)

Recruiting talent has always been a difficult job in the best of times, and as we continue with what appears to be an even more challenging business environment, law firm leadership—and particularly the role of managing partner—will become increasingly complex. I’d like to examine the role of today’s managing partners in light of how connections within a firm and between the firm and the outside world are evolving. Let me start by stating that I believe law firm leadership can no longer operate under some of the old assumptions:

•   Expecting blind loyalty from employees in exchange for job security.
•   Delaying decisions for days, weeks, months, or years.
•   Accepting mediocre job performance.
•   Embracing consensus and avoiding conflict.

As a managing partner working within this high-risk culture, you will need to create an environment that is: more tolerant of dissent; more supportive of experimentation; and at the same time, more committed to shared discussion and learning. Increasingly, managing partners are finding out that while money plays a part in the discussion to leave or stay with the firm, other factors seem to matter more. Law firms are beginning to look more seriously at career development, responsibility, professional satisfaction and overall law firm atmosphere to supplement compensation packages

“Aligning the Stars” (2.) is a term first used by Jay W. Lorsch and Thomas J. Tierney in a book that discussed how law firm’s attract, retain, motivate, organize, and lead the stars that shape a firm’s destiny. Since success in legal services can be determined more by the people you pay than the people who pay you, I’d like to examine how hiring new kinds of people will be key for your firm’s survival.

The performance challenges that law firm’s face–for example, client satisfaction, technological change, competitive threats, and regulatory threats are forcing firms to, “avoid the mistakes of looking for the seeds of tomorrow in yesterday’s fields. (3.) If your firm hires only new people whom insiders like and feel comfortable being around, you should expect to continue to rely on ONLY past history, well-developed procedures, and proven technologies to grow your business. In these times when most companies are experimenting with new procedures, inventing and testing new technologies to satisfy customer demands, to enter new markets, and to gain an advantage over competition, hiring new kinds of people will be key for your firm’s survival.

1.      March, J. G., “Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning,” Organizational Science 2 (1991): 71-87.
2.      Hammer, M., The Agenda: What Every Business Must Do to Dominate the Decade (New York: Crown Business Press, 2001), 254
3.    March, J. G., “Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning,” Organizational Science 2 (1991): 71-87.