Whenever someone I know becomes a firm’s managing partner, I always express my congratulations and condolences. Yes, it certainly is a feather in one’s cap to be the Big Cheese at a law firm. But, let’s be frank; it’s a tough job. Ask any managing partner and they’ll often tell you that practicing law is far easier than managing a law firm.
You see, while law schools and CLEs teach you how to practice law, they do not teach you how to lead. And while I’m no leadership expert, I do know the basic qualities that make good law firm leaders.
The #1 Attribute of Great Law Firm Leaders
Perhaps the most important responsibility of a managing partner is the management of the firm’s lawyers and staff. Thus, a good leader needs extraordinary people and communication skills.
As a former employment attorney, I saw first-hand the adverse consequences of poor leaders. Indeed, I made a living from it. With that said, I can also tell you that most (not all) bad leaders seemed to have been well-intentioned and smart. But, they were clueless about how to best handle and treat their people.
My advice? If you are considering taking the leap to managing partner and you know that dealing with people is not your strong suit or doesn’t appeal to you, stick to lawyering.
Additional Qualities of Successful Managing Partners
Here are additional qualities and abilities that you would benefit from having if you are considering the role of managing partner:
- Strategic thinking: Do you have what former president George H. W. Bush once called that “vision thing.” Managing partners need to know where the firm is heading, why it is heading in that particular direction, and make sure everyone else knows it, too.
- Creativity: This one isn’t so easy for lawyers, in general. If you can’t be creative, are you at least open to others’ creative ideas?
- Economics knowledge: While you don’t need an MBA, you do need to know the basics of how your firm makes money.
- Listening skills: Good communicators must be able to respond effectively to others. To do that, you have to listen well.
- Integrity: Can you speak the truth? Dancing around it can begin the death knell of a firm. Likewise, can you make tough decisions? Managing a firm means making decisions others shy away from and potentially upsetting some of your people. Can you do the right thing, even if it’s hard to do?
Do You Fit the Bill?
If these attributes describe you, then, by all means, take the leap and become a managing partner. You’ll find yourself in the most challenging and rewarding job you’ve ever had.