Creating Better Law Firm Leaders: What Law Firms Can Learn from Google

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Jerome Kowalski

Kowalski & Associates

March, 2011

I recently attended a conference of managing partners in which one of the topics under discussion was “How many hats does a managing partner need to wear?”  The discussion was animated and the clear consensus was that an MP needs to wear them all: manager, strategic thinker, leader, psychologist, economist, parental figure, marketer, promoter, consensus builder, team builder, peace maker, visionary, piñata, the Harry Truman “buck stops here” hat, huckster, Indian chief, CEO,COO, CMO CIO,  and on and on.

As I relaxed in my easy chair on Saturday catching up on my reading, a piece in the New York Times about work performed within Google (clearly one of the greatest companies on the planet) to create better managers.  The piece, entitled “The Quest to Build a Better Boss,” describes Google’s detailed analyses and data mining to identify the definitive qualities of effective managers.  Remarkably, Google’s list is short and sweet. It identified “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Manager” and “Three Pitfalls of Managers.”

Among the reasons Google’s simple principles struck me is that they appeared as Bob Ruyback was being pilloried for his failed stewardship at Howrey by, among others, Professor Steve Harper and minions of anonymous Howrey staffers and lawyers on  a blog entitled “It’s Howrey Doody Time.” At the time of this writing,  that Howrey blog, which has been in existence for only a couple of months, seems to have received an astounding 262,000 hits.  And at the same time, Mr. Ruyback is also being criticized by his former partners (whom he said “abandoned him”) for putting them is serious  long term financial jeopardy.

Mr. Ruyack’s contentions, among other things was that partners jumped ship because they “had little tolerance for change” and the new free agency mindset of Big Law partners induced them to leave when there was a dip in revenues. Yes, lawyers do resist change, as I previously reported.  But that innate resistance to change must be overcome by leadership and sound management skills.

And in every study ever done on why people seek alternative employment, compensation factors rank at the bottom of the list.  Always at the top of the list for reasons for voluntarily leaving a job is a lack of job satisfaction.  I also previously wrote about how important it is for law firm leadership to concern itself with associate job satisfaction, even in an era when the supply of lawyers so far exceeds demand.  Certainly, the same principles of maintaining adequate job satisfaction is all the more critical at the partner level.  Maintaining job satisfaction is a critical function of management.

My own personal view, based on long tears of observation, is that successful law firm leadership is predicated on fairly few  building a team, developing consensus, avoiding hubris, and keeping lines of communication open and honest, giving deference and weight to all of a law firm’s stakeholders. Here, then is Google’s Rules, as reported by The Times.

 Google’s Rules –

As I said, Google is a great company and we, as a profession, should build on these principles to create better law firm managers, practice group leaders, office leaders and lawyers heading up particular engagements.

© Jerome Kowalski, March 2011.  All Rights Reserved.


2 Responses

  1. […] Encourage and reward leadership at every level in the fashion championed by Google. […]

  2. […] given some thought to what we lawyers and law firm leaders can learn from Jeter. We build on the lessons we previously learned about leadership from Google and its style of corporate leadership and […]

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