Law firm managers need to be active, conscious and pro-active in their role. Management is not merely a title, it is a critical role that is seldom done well in a law firm.
Law firms require a range of managers. These include professional managers such as Administrators, marketing or IT directors and the like. But law firms also require lawyer managers in the form of committee members, practice or client team leaders, executive committee members and managing partners.
Active Management: Management is not simply a title on a bio, it is an ongoing activity required. For this reason, I encourage firms to write a job description for the role before recruiting for the position. This establishes expectations of behaviour, purpose and accountability.
Conscious Management: Management is not something that’s practiced off the side of a desk, considered from time to time as an adjunct to a law practice. Effective managers think consciously and frequently about the role: what they need to manager, and how they will go about doing so. Management is so much more than dealing with a crisis.
Pro-Active Management: Good managers think ahead to how they should be managing for the future. They do this by monitoring changing trends in the marketplace and help their group to prepare for corresponding shifts in service needs. They should also monitor their resources carefully, preparing for upcoming gaps (for example in budget, in team members by year of call, in particular skills, etc.)
Most importantly, managers should help set and then keep groups accountable for strategy and implementation plans. This part is critical because by definition, management is about steering towards a purpose. Without that clear purpose in the form of strategy and a plan, there is no direction. And direction is important because it can legitimately change.
Most goals are established well in advance of the time in which they are expected to play out. We do annual planning for the coming year in the September to December period before the year starts. We try to predict, as best we can, what we can accomplish and we build action plans best of the best data we have. But it is understood that during the year of implementation, some changes may need to occur.
However, our starting point is always our goals. In his book “How Will You Measure Your Life”, Harvard Professor Clayton Christianson refers to these as deliberate strategies. Deliberate strategies are the goals we’ve declared and that our plans are aiming toward. Deliberate strategies are the game plan we set and stick to as we proceed through the date period of our plan. We galvanize around deliberate strategies. We focus our energies on them, and use them as a filter through which all opportunities are run.
Many times, we can carry on this way throughout the year and be assured that by the end of the implementation of our plan, there’s a pretty good chance we will have safely and effectively accomplished all of our business goals. But there’s no guarantee that life will play out the way we anticipated it would. For this reason, good managers question everything. They monitor progress in terms of activities and results (revenue and expenses) closely. They regularly observe the marketplace and consider how changes there might affect goals and plans. This is important because plans are not etched in stone: sometimes, our plans need to be changed.
Plans could need to be adjusted due to a change in our resources, the marketplace, caselaw, the economy, etc. Or we could find that the goals we were chasing are simply not occurring for other reasons, and at the same time, another opportunity is opening up that we couldn’t have envisioned months earlier. These new realities require emergent strategies, or shifts in strategy when we realize that what we had anticipated is not working out and that there might be a more productive opportunity in a different direction.
For example, in our plan we may have been relying on cross-sells from another practice area that simply aren’t coming to fruition. Or we may have assumed a certain number of billings from a particular sector or client that just aren’t happening. But in analyzing the data, we may note that another sector appears to be growing.
Strong active, conscious and pro-active management enables us to establish goals and action plans, see when they might be faltering, and take steps to correct them or shift into new opportunities as they arise.
Good management also includes a day-to-day component because strong managers can create great followers. They do this by practising clear and regular communication, transparent goals, logical implementation, regular marketplace reviews, consistent internal data analysis and fair management of crisis. Developing strong followers is critical because great managers are not great because of what they can achieve. They are great because of what they can encourage their team members to collectively achieve.
All of these areas of management require that the manager embraces the full role, actively practises that role throughout the year (not just at reporting times), and manages “in the moment” – questioning everything, regularly analyzing internal and external data, and daily inspiring team members to be good followers. Effective managing in a law firm is so much more than a title on a bio.
Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org