“Joy Cometh in the Morning”

That is: any morning except Monday morning, or so it seems for at least one law firm. I assisted clearing the air at one law firm where it was the Managing Partner's habit to move all admin issues to his “non-billable” time. For him, mostly, that meant the weekend. It worked very efficiently for him, as he could look over the accounts and the issues pertaining to the weeks ahead and behind, without interruptions of phones and people. He would send out emails and leave phone messages for attorneys and staff alike. He recounted his process to me with a real sense of pride and a sense of accomplishment. It was noticeable in his tone and on his face as he spoke. Until he told of his frustration that he rarely got confirmations back as to the actions he requested. He recounted having to go chase or follow up on the status and how that was a waste of his time. He went on to chide those who were the “worst”. The sense I got from this section of the conversation was emotional frustration. To say it was “personal” would be to overstate it, and yet to say that it was not personal would be understating it. This problem stuck a cord inside this Managing Partner.

I went off to engage the recipients of all this efficiency. I was not surprised when I heard stories of Monday dread. The inevitability of the “Monday Missives” as one called them. It was a familiar thread, “He never has time to talk about things and yet he will send out directives, thinking he understands the situation.” “There is more then meets the eye, or can be or should be detailed in a memo or spreadsheet.” The collective sense I gleaned was frustration. The same emotional frustration I sensed from the Managing Partner.

Educating the Managing Partner on how better to communicate to his people is only addressing the symptom. People, no matter the position, will have quirks. Adjustments on all sides must accommodate these quirks to be productive. Communication style is one of my main soap-box issues but it can only be so if I see that the structure supporting the Managing Partner is conducive to “managing”. Without the correct organizational foundation, focusing on communication style is to miss the core problem.

Why did the Managing Partner feel pressure to relegate most of the “management” of the firm to the weekends? Why did the people that the Managing Partner relied upon to implement his vision feel dread instead of empowerment?

He did so because he had no choice. He was, by organizational structure, “incentivized” to preserve “his” practice. “Managing the business” was less in his self-interest. The accepted structure of law firms has at its foundation a built-in conflict of interest. This is the heart of the problem, generating all the frustration expressed above. The people he managed experience the “conflict of interest” in the method of communication. They are in fact being told by the Managing Partner, “the organization you rely upon is secondary to what is in my self interest.” Not the stuff of “empowerment” – but rather the cause for emotional frustration.

I do not fault the Managing Partner, nor do I think the expectations of the employees and other partners are unreasonable. “A house divided cannot stand”, nor can a firm long prosper when its Management does not have “management” at the core of its self-interest.

There is a heavy price to pay for any attorney to enter management. There is no balance to be struck; their practice will suffer or the organization will suffer. Generally, it is devastating to their skills as an attorney and their personal book of business. It is often a raw deal – the Managing Partner is not sufficiently rewarded for paying such a heavy price. This “conflict of interest” can be mitigated, but never eliminated. There are personalities and/or skill-sets, which if they appear at the right time and in the right combination between attorney management and non-attorney management, can soften the effects. This is more often a matter of luck than of design. The “conflict of interest” problem sneaks up on a firm. The smaller the organization, the less obvious the conflict will be. Years of success can be pointed to as validation that a change in structure is not necessary. Failure to accurately assess the right time, right personalities, and right skill sets to manifest a change can often lead to dissatisfaction and loss of “core belief” in the organization.

I tend to avoid finding fault with people without first looking long and hard at what motivations these “artificial structures” create. The conflicts with the overall vision for success lurk because they exist. Joy cometh in the morning, when the organizational structure supports the “vision” and does not hinder people from hearing their better angels.