Should lawyers focus on being lawyers?

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6 September 2016

Posted by Andy Somerville, director at Legal Futures Associate Search Acumen

Sommerville: lawyers do not make poor managers but they are time-poor

Sommerville: lawyers do not make poor managers but they are time-poor

It goes without saying that being a partner in a law firm involves plenty of hard work. The more senior your role, the more effort and time that needs to be allocated towards management and making the hard-hitting business decisions that will drive the firm’s growth.

As you ascend the partnership’s management ladder, the amount of time you can spend on your regular fee-earning work is reduced substantially, taking away the pleasures of being a solicitor. Suddenly, your forte of practising law matters less and your business acumen counts for much more.

One of the problems that a partnership model can bring, however, is a ‘too many cooks’ scenario, where all other senior contributors are making business decisions together, and the result is actually a slow-down in snap decision-making – the very reason a strong, senior management team is needed in the first place.

Getting those management skills can also be an issue for highly educated lawyers, who are perhaps more reluctant than most to take management training, even though this could help to bridge the gap in practising law and running a company.

It’s not that lawyers make poor managers – far from it. However, they are time-poor, and time, as solicitors know all too well, is money. So should lawyers should focus on being lawyers? Having worked closely with many law firms of all types over the years, my view is that an acumen-led approach works best, whereby top lawyers focus on deploying their legal expertise on client work, while management is streamlined around a smaller number of key partners keen to lead on marketing, new business, internal processes and other key management tasks.

There’s a case too for ‘buying in’ business acumen, by investing in specialists to work within the firm, or to engage with more suppliers who can add value to the partnership and drive growth. A starting point could be to leverage technology to make things simpler and improve productivity, as we do here at Search Acumen.

For example, upgrading your timesheet software can lead to more accurate billing, while documents could be assembled quicker and tracked far better with the latest case management system.

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