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Are Law Firms Manageable?

David Maister's piece in the April issue of The American Lawyer, titled, Are Law Firms Manageable? (and reprinted on his own site), is predictably getting attention on both sides of the pond. No surprise, given that Maister says it is in the nature of lawyers to be bad managers:

"The ways of thinking and behaving that help lawyers excel in their profession may be the very things that limit what they can achieve as firms. Management challenges occur not in spite of lawyers' intelligence and training, but because of them."

What are law firms to do? Turn themselves upside down and inside out, Maister suggests:

"Suffice it to say that unless law firms undergo a cultural revolution, not just minor changes, most will not be able to achieve their ambitions. Dysfunctional behavior by partners, currently not only tolerated but vigorously celebrated, will prevent firms from functioning as they desire."

If Maister throws down the gauntlet, Bruce MacEwen picks it up, putting forth his belief that law firms can be managed.

"What we need are one, or a handful, or exemplar firms, which will doubtless be led by exceptional individuals of uncompromised vision ('people make the times; the times don't make the people') such as Jay Zimmerman of Bingham McCutchen today or Clint Stevenson of Latham 20 years ago (who a commenter called 'Latham's Paul Cravath')."

From the U.K., the comments of Maister and MacEwen drew a response from Human Law, who warns that, unless law firms reform, the end is near:

"My view is that with increased globalisation occurring in all legal jurisdictions and now the prospect of non lawyers entering the legal services market, the times of law firms being able to dysfunction in the way that Maister describes and yet make lots of money will soon be over."

Perhaps the only hope for the business of law is, as Maister says, the fact that lawyers "compete only with other lawyers."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on April 14, 2006 at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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