Poor management is one of the reasons that law firms lose associates and other valuable personnel. According to CNN, most law firms are headed by attorneys who have never been trained in management and who use the wrong approach to manage the associates, leading to high turnover and heavy attrition costs. Nevertheless, it appears that the situation is on the mend because law schools such as Harvard and Georgetown are increasingly incorporating business and management skills into their courses to teach lawyers how to be leaders.
A law firm is a business, and like other businesses it needs to be well-managed to ensure day-to-day operations run smoothly and the firm makes a return on its investment. This requires a trained manager with knowledge of both business and law. Law firm operations can generally be divided into two main disciplines -- the practice of law and the administration of the firm’s business. To run a firm successfully, leaders need to balance these two aspects. Lawyers are not managers and they are not trained in administration, yet in most firms, the managing partner still has to run the firm in a manner that ensures efficient operations and productivity among the staff. Therefore, courses in law firm management can teach the managing partner or committee to handle business and human resources as effectively as they do legal practice.
The law firm management courses that universities and colleges offer cover a variety of issues related to leading and managing people. For example, at Georgetown, course participants are taught about leadership and decision-making, leadership styles, organizational culture, effective team leadership, conflict resolution, change management and effective strategic planning. Thereafter, the participants are expected to make the transition from lawyers to effective leaders.
Training in law firm management enables participants to develop core competencies that ensure the full engagement and satisfaction of staff members and the smooth running of the business. A trained firm manager has interpersonal skills and easily interacts with the attorneys, other members of the staff and external parties, such as vendors. They shape the organizational culture, possesses business acumen and skillfully handle human resources issues. A trained law firm manager also understands the value of the staff, especially the attorneys who conduct billable work, and strives to understand and meet their needs, thus avoiding turnover due to poor management.
Courses in law firm management not only benefit the participants, but they also result in tangible benefits to the organization. They support the growth of the firm by enhancing morale among the staff and retaining top talent, including associates and partners, encouraging them to meet the firm’s goals. The participants in a law firm management course are also able to pass on their knowledge and skills to other firm members, primarily teaching through example, which may in turn inculcate appreciation for further management training.