Essential reading for law firm managing partners

There are two kinds of law firms in this world: those that bounce from pillar to post trying to take advantage of opportunities that never seem to work out, and those that follow a well-crafted strategic direction, according to Edward Wesemann in his book Looking Tall by Standing Next to Short People: and Other Techniques for Managing a Law Firm. The book provides a range of well-crafted articles, not only about strategy, but also about dealing with partners, governance, mergers, business development, and profitability.

Out of the 38 articles dealing with a whole range of different themes, some of the memorable lessons are:

  • Managing a law firm requires a high level of trust, but trust is in short supply at most firms
  • There should be minimum standards for partner performance in each of four roles: working as a lawyer, generating business, performing non-billable tasks for the firm, and acting as an owner to enhance the profitability and reputation of the firm
  • A firm’s culture should be identified and managed. It includes the level of involvement (teamwork vs individual accomplishment), adaptability (changing by learning from successes and failures), mission(whether there is a clearly expressed long-term direction) and consistency (whether there are core values shaping expectations).
  • Business development consists mainly of being the best lawyer in town and tenaciously hanging on to your existing clients
  • Focusing on profitability is not the best way to increase profitability; instead focus on a strategy that will make your firm more attractive to clients

Although the contents of the book were written as a series of articles rather than as pre-planned chapters of a book, there is not a lot of repetition between articles, they are arranged helpfully according to theme, and they are all written in the same entertaining and occasionally witty style. I highly recommend the book to managing partners of law firms.

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