For this week’s feature post (305), Legal Evolution is pleased to welcome guest contributor Patrick J. McKenna, renowned lecturer, strategist, and advisor to law firms. Patrick is the author of several books on the challenges of firm leadership, including the classic First Among Equals: How To Manage A Group of Professionals (2002) with David Maister, and most recently Industry Specialization: Making Competitors Irrelevant (2022). In addition, his decades of experience led to his being the subject of a Harvard Law School Case Study entitled Innovations In Legal Consulting (2011). Up until the advent of Covid, Patrick co-led a one-day masterclass, First 100 Days for The New Firm Leader, which graduated over 80 leaders from AmLaw 100, 200, accounting and consulting firms hailing from four countries.
Theory and data are profoundly powerful tools. Patrick certainly agrees. But what happens if the available theories and data are insufficient to adequately explain one’s environment? Well, your best bet is experience in whatever form you can find it.
During my early years of academic writing on law firms, I read the published commentary of many law firm consultants, including Patrick, primarily so I could better understand some of the practicalities surrounding law firm decision making, which, suffice to say, did not conform to conventional business theory. A few years later, I got to know Patrick personally, as we were co-panelists or facilitators at numerous law firm conferences. It is hard for me to overstate the value I’ve received from Patrick’s war stories, particularly as I tried to make sense of what I was experiencing and observing during my Lawyer Metrics days. See Post 004 (discussing how Lawyer Metrics eventually led to the founding of Legal Evolution); Post 257 (telling more of the story).
Having been on this journey for more than 20 years, I can laugh with Patrick that we are still figuring things out, as the adoption of sound or innovative business strategy has to run the gauntlet of lawyer personalities, practice group politics, layers of committees, generational differences, and the potential impact on this year’s revenue, budget, profits, and individual partner compensation.
Today’s post (305) on the shared leadership of law firms is a prime example of the bottomless pit of complexity in law firm management. From far away, co-leadership has an irresistible appeal. But in practice, it seldom works, primarily because lawyers are reluctant to invest the time and emotional energy in an honest and realistic appraisal of what it’s going to take to be successful. Let’s hope Patrick’s excellent analysis helps break the cycle, at least for the law firm leaders who take the time to read it.