Leadership is all

In a week when everything is overshadowed by the fate of Speaker Martin (at the time of posting we are still waiting to hear when it is he intends to go) and after what seems an eternity of disclosures about MPs’ expenses (accompanied by an orgy of hand-wringing insincerity), yet another excellent article by Stefan Stern in today’s FT – and for leaders in law firms another pointer,

Does “real leadership” simply mean telling people what to do? Or does leadership mean building consensus, so that when you attempt to make changes your organisation advances more or less as one.

Leadership is situational. In other words, context is everything. Few business leaders find themselves facing a weekly inquisition like PMQs. But in a time of economic difficulty, businesses and organisations do look to their leaders for clarity of thought and decisive action. So which organisations will come through this period in better shape: those where there is less talk and more action, or those where agreement is sought before action is taken?

Stern writes about the recent launch of the Centre for Professional Service Firms at the Cass Business School in London, and reports the comments of Laura Empson, director of the centre : “Professionals, by and large, do not want to be led, and professionals, by and large, do not want to be leaders.”

And this is the real problem.

More on the future of law

Another thought provoking post by Jordan Furlong in Law 21 on How to solve the legal employment problem. It makes for uneasy reading,

We’ve been bingeing on reports of law firm layoffs for a few months now, and there’s every reason to think those reports will continue through 2009. But we haven’t spent as much time looking at the big picture: there is a growing population of lawyers whose jobs are gone for good, and a larger group of lawyers whose underlying business models are fast becoming obsolete. . .

During the recession, we’re all going to learn to do more with less. Cost-saving efficiency and “good-enough” quality will be the twin standards by which purchases of all kinds will be made, including legal services. Lawyers have never needed to be efficient and they’ve always preferred an exhaustive answer to an adequate one; they’re not going to adjust easily, and some won’t adjust at all. Clients also will need their lawyers to focus more on high-value services that demand advisory skills and judgment, and less on than repetitive tasks that require boxes to be ticked off and i’s to be dotted. That’s going to be more than a business model challenge; that’s a new way for many legal professionals to view themselves and their functions, and again, some simply won’t  have the wherewithal to meet the new expectations.

In particular read the take on the problem for legal education: “churning out lawyers suited for 20th century practice”.

How others see us

Somewhat late a comment on the article Meet the rich some weeks ago in The Guardian, which John Malpas posted about in early August, and in particular on the description of the group of lawyers and bankers interviewed,

technically able but less intelligent, less intellectually inquisitive, less knowledgeable and, despite their good schools, less broadly educated than high-flyers in other professions.

Whether or not this is true (and my experience is that this is not the case), what we should be worried about is the perception that people have about the law and lawyers. This is an age old problem, but one we cannot just shrug off.

On a slightly different tack, but worth the read, see Matthew Taylor’s Greed is good, but only in its place, in his eponymous RSA blog.


My brother Esau . . .

There was a lovely article in the FT some months ago about beards, A hairy issue for today’s executive, explaining why today’s executive prefers a clean shave. In the legal profession it is little different. Bearded lawyers are comparatively rare (for example, of my just short of 60 partners, only one at last count was bearded).

Why this should be the case I don’t know, but I still remember the words of my principal, as we left a meeting at a very pukka Lincolns Inn law firm some 30 plus years ago.

I don’t usually trust lawyers with beards. Mr X [with whom we had just had a less than satisfactory meeting] has done nothing to dispel this prejudice.

From that you will gather that the then partnership of my firm was clean shaven to a man. During my six months off to take Law Society Finals Part II I grew what I thought was a very fine red beard. Having to go into the office to collect something, I bumped into the Senior Partner.

Been on a cruise? Quite sure we won’t see it when you are back next week.

He didn’t.

Watching the fairly recent proceedings of the General Synod, beards are clearly more acceptable in the Church of England than the law, although whether their wearers are more or less trustworthy I couldn’t say.