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Shouldn't Running the Store Be Part of Being a Lawyer?

In a commentary piece, "Let Lawyers Be Lawyers," Karen Asner of White & Case argues that given  the complex administrative tasks involved in running a large law firm today, firms are better off delegating administrative tasks to professional administrators, thus freeing lawyers up to be lawyers.   She writes that less than 15 years ago, law firm partners often handled human resources, recruiting, marketing and communications tasks, but as firms have grown, these day-to-day operations have become too onerous for lawyers:

"Lawyers are trained to be lawyers -- not marketers, human resource managers or IT specialists. And the constant juggling of significant administrative responsibilities and the pressure to maintain a practice (what Harvard Business Review calls the "producing manager dilemma"[FOOTNOTE 1]) can be one of the most stressful aspects of the job. That's why large law firms are increasingly professionalizing staff to handle firm operations and help partners make strategic decisions about their business."

I recognize the enormous issues involved in large-firm administration.  At the same time, lawyers should be involved to some degree in the running of a firm.  Lawyers have to be committed to marketing to make a marketing program work; you can't hire a professional marketer and expect him or her to do the job for lawyers.  Likewise, lawyers should be aware of technology decisions, of the pros and cons of Web sites and blogs and client extranets so they can serve clients.  Lawyers, after all, don't just practice law.  Much of the advice that we give is strategic, not legal; we don't advise only on whether a company can win a case, but whether pursuing a win is worth the cost.  If lawyers become too divorced from the process of running a business, they can't be effective in rendering that advice.

The one benefit of a small firm -- the lack of administrative support and staff -- is also in some ways its biggest advantage.  It ensures that lawyers keep in touch with the inner workings of the business of law and in the long run, makes them more sensitive to the needs of their clients.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 24, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


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