What partnerships are talking about right now

by Jaap Bosman

For a large part of my life, I have been a Land Rover enthusiast. I have owned a Series 2A, a Series 3 and a very rare original early Range Rover. All these cars I have taken frequently off road. All mechanical maintenance I did myself. Driving a Land Rover gives you a sense of freedom. Driving a classic Land Rover is being part of a community. As a token of freedom, many of my fellow Land Rover enthusiasts had sticker on their car: ‘One life, Live it’ A reminder not to waste time on things that don’t really matter.

The last quarter of the year is always a busy time for TGO Consulting. Many running projects reach a stage in which an important milestone is reached; many new projects start after the big November partner meetings. Having so many conversations with clients around partner meetings, I often think about the text on that Land Rover sticker, as I am wondering if partners are spending their time wisely on these meetings.

“Out of all the time you spend on partner meetings, what percentage of the time do you discuss clients and market opportunities?”, I regularly ask partners. The typical response will be “close to zero”. When the partners of a law firm get together, they typically discuss internal issues. Market opportunities and clients are rarely part of the conversation. Can you imagine the board of any commercial company not discussing markets and clients? So why are lawyers so obsessed with internal issues?

Partner meetings are hardly ever about clients and opportunities

As a partner in a law firm your available time and energy is finite. Lawyers are under constant pressure from their clients and from their firm to produce outstanding results. For any partner in a top law firm client work will consume most of the time and energy. If time and energy are precious resources, why waste it on things that do not contribute to better business or wellbeing? Available time is limited, use it wisely.

In general, partners don’t like partner meetings. Many bring their laptop, check their emails, do some client work or read the news/watch sports. Why spend time on a meeting that does not bring you anything other than drinks or dinner at the end? The same applies to most other internal meetings. Many partners don’t like attending. They are invariably late, did not prepare and are distracted with other things for as long as the meeting will last. They only attend because they are expected or required to do so. If not, they would rather spend time on their files.

The purpose of this article is on the one hand to liberate partners from the chains of useless meetings, and on the other hand to highlight that when they meet partners should talk about the business much more than about internal stuff. Business and clients bring you money. So, if you invest time and energy, there will be a positive return on the investment. Ideally a law firms should abolish all meetings that do not bring a clear return on the investment. No more meetings for the sake of having a meeting. No more useless rituals. Applying this simple rule will free-up a significant amount of time, will have a positive impact on your wellbeing and will keep you focused on the outside world.

Many law firms have an internal culture of whining and complaining

Mutatis mutandis, this rule also applies to the managing partner, the executive committee and the practice group heads. Typically, in law firms there are many internal issues, big and small, that absorb disproportionate amounts of time and energy. All of you involved in law firm leadership know the amount of time that is spent on disputes between partners or the type of flowers on the reception desk. The problem is that spending time on solving all these little issues, does not make the firm any better and does not bring in better clients or more revenue. It just drains your energy.

Law firm leadership would be well advised to simply ignore all these internal issues. If two partners have a ‘fight’, let them sort it out themselves, they are adults. If the flowers on the reception desk are not fresh today, let it be, there will be fresh ones tomorrow. It does not directly affect the business.

Also, for law firm leaders, time and energy are limited. Your task is to make the firm better, not to be a schoolmaster. Rather than wasting time on the weak ones, invest time in the strong performers. Rather than trying to persuade the unwilling, work with the willing. Focus on opportunities rather than on obstacles. Once you start doing this you will not only be far more effective, you will probably also fundamentally change the culture of the firm. Too many law firms have among the partners an internal culture of whining and complaining. Shake off this toxic blanket and start focusing on business opportunities.

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