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Leadership and Management Training for Partners: Three Major Philadelphia Law Firms Take the Lead

Leadership Training In the past (see post here), we've noted how the manner in which supervising attorneys treat junior lawyers can play a major role in a firm's retention efforts. Specifically, nasty, difficult and disrespectful partners drive associates out of a firm into the arms of competitors with more collegial working environments, while likable, respectful and appreciative partners will inspire and motivate their younger colleagues, and promote loyalty to the firm.

The obvious solution is offering training to partners and other senior attorneys that teaches them effective management and leadership skills. Accounting firms do it. Why not law firms?

So we were happy to see a post last month in the Leadership for Lawyers blog (published by Mark Beese) sharing how three leading Philadelphia firms -- Reed Smith, Blank Rome, Morgan Lewis -- are now offering leadership development programs. The post also references an article in the Boston Business Journal profiling Linda Pennington, a consultant with a master's degree in organizational dynamics who coaches senior attorneys on "informal" leadership qualities such as social skills -- precisely the type of "likability" training we think many senior lawyers need.

Pennington conducts a few sessions with a lawyer and cross references information gained from his or her co-workers to see if the lawyer's self-perception jives with the view others have of the lawyer's leadership skills. She then offers a critique and asks the lawyers to implement behavioral changes and report back on progress.

Another consultant, Marci Krufka, a principal at law firm consultancy Altman Weil, notes that while many business executives view being selected for leadership training as a positive, lawyers often interpret it as punishment. That's a perception that needs to change if firms want to improve retention rates.

Large accounting firms, Krufka adds, will send their CPAs to an average of 100 hours of leadership training before making them partners and an average of 300 hours before making them practice group leaders.

One major accounting firm from which law large firms can draw inspiration is Deloitte & Touche. As reported in the groundbreaking report recently published by the Women's Bar Association for the District of Columbia, Creating Pathways to Success: The Final Report of the Initiative on the Advancement and Retention of Women, in the early 1990s, Deloitte CEO Michael Cook spearheaded a task force on women, which found that women at Deloitte perceived they had fewer career opportunities than men. Cook took the risky and costly step of requiring all managers to attend mandatory two-day workshops designed to explore issues of gender in the workplace. Over a two-year period, 5,000 management level professionals at Deloitte & Touche including the board of directors, the management committee, and the managing partners in all of their U.S. offices — attended the workshops in small groups of 24.

Douglas McCracken, later promoted to CEO of Deloitte, describes how he, like many other managers, had harbored significant doubts as to the value of the programs. Skeptical of “HR-type programs” and seeing the workshops as “just one more thing to do,” he “calculat[ed] in [his] head the lost revenue represented by two days’ worth of billable hours, multiplied by 5,000 — not to mention the $8 million cost of the workshops themselves.”

But, because then-CEO Cook personally monitored attendance, “[r]esistance was futile” and, ultimately, “the workshops converted a critical mass of Deloitte’s leaders.” McCracken further explains:

"The workshops were a turning point, a pivotal event in the life of the firm. Through discussions, videos, and case studies, we began to take a hard look at how gender attitudes affected the environment at Deloitte. It wasn’t enough to hear the problems in the abstract; we had to see them face-to-face. Sitting across a table from a respected colleague and hearing her say, “Why did you make that assumption about women? It’s just not true,” I, like many others, began to change. The light bulbs went on for different partners at different times. Many of us had little exposure to dual-career families but did have highly educated daughters entering the workforce. A woman partner would say to a male counterpart, “Sarah’s graduating from college. Would you want her to work for a company that has lower expectations for women?” Suddenly he’d get it."

We'd expect similar epiphanies if major law firms compelled their senior attorneys to undergo management and leadership skills training. To the extent, associates start to share how they feel about they way they are being treated, partners should begin to see the impact of their working styles - both positive and negative.

Sources:

Read Mark Beese's Leadership for Lawyers post on leadership training for lawyers.

Read the full Boston Business Journal article.

Read the report (PDF) published by the Women's Bar Association of Washington, D.C.

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Training can of course help; but firms should also find ways to reward partners financially for participating in the management of the firm. As long as billable hours are the only contribution that is measured, law firms are destined to end up with lawyers who care more about their own numbers than they do about the professional development of younger partners and associates.

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