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“Why isn’t this for all partners?”

A plea for management training

I recently delivered one of my management training programs—6 Mistakes that Kill Engagement—to a class of new partners, and it went GREAT! (not to humble brag or anything) There was incredible discussion. Some agreed; some disagreed. All were trying to assimilate it into how they currently manage or how they have been managed in the past.

Afterwards, one of the partners said to me, “I saw this program for 75 minutes at the end of the long day and I was NOT looking forward to it. But, let me tell you, it was SO helpful. I really learned a lot, and the time flew by.” I love it when my programs surprise people.

Now, I am not intending for this post to be all about how awesome I and this program are. This is about a comment/question another participant also raised at the end of the program. She asked, “Is this new because I sure haven’t been managed like this? Why isn’t this for all partners?”

Now this certainly is not the first time I have been asked questions like these, but this time it got me thinking. Why isn’t management training, beyond delegation and feedback, more highly prioritized, better received or more widely delivered in law firms? I can imagine a few reasons why:

The primary metrics for success are billable hours, revenue generation and repeat clients. Therefore, firms prioritize development of legal and business development skills over management training.

There is a perception that management is intuitive. Congratulations you’re a partner! Now go lead. The reality is that assuming good lawyers will naturally become good managers is false.

There is a lack of visible immediate impact. The benefits of effective management—such as improved team morale, increased efficiency, and reduced turnover—can be slower to materialize and harder to quantify than the outcomes of legal expertise.

So, what can be done? How can we increase the prioritization and sense of urgency for the development of effective management skills in firms?

Track and collect data after training or coaching. Often the training or coaching is provided, such as my workshop, but nothing is tracked after that. For those people who have learning experiences, track retention, productivity, e.g. hours billed, profitability, morale and other indicators of their team members. For example, one partner I know has only had one team member leave the firm since 2019. People LOVE working for him!

Conduct assessments/upward reviews for participants. For those who participate in the training that you do offer, conduct before and after assessments or upward reviews. They don’t have to be complex, but capturing the impact of the training from the partner’s team members can be very powerful.

Gain an ally in leadership. Find at least one influential leader within the firm who understands and supports the push for management training. Use this ally to help champion the training programs, demonstrate its value, and add weight to the sense of urgency through their endorsement and/or pilot of training initiatives.

Highlight risks of inaction. Emphasize what could go wrong if current managerial inefficiencies continue unchecked. This might include increased turnover, client dissatisfaction, or loss of clients. In particular, if you have a partner who is a known poor manager, track data to show the impact.

Whether through one of my programs or another initiative, I strongly encourage you to champion the cause for expanded management training opportunities. Convincing firm leadership of its criticality cannot be overstated; there’s enormous potential that awaits us if we can illuminate the benefits and emphasize the urgent need more effective people management skills in firms.

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