Why Lawyers Can Be Hard to Manage

Kathy Fortin

April 30, 2018

In the large law firm where I began my legal career, there was clear leadership and effective management. I consider it fortunate that I came from a firm that functioned so well that it made all the difference in enjoying my work. Such stability was a major reason I stayed there for twenty-five years. The difference between this firm and others I work with every day, as a law firm consultant, reminds me of the reason for founding our consulting business—to help law firms manage their firms successfully.

I recently read an article in the ABA Law Practice Magazine article (May/June 2018) about the frustrations that come from managing lawyers. The author, Andrew Elowitt, says lawyers resemble cats, in that they are independent and like to work autonomously. He aptly uses the cliché “like herding cats,” when referring to some of the challenges of managing lawyers.

Now, this made me think about cats in general and then realizing dogs make a good counterpoint to Mr. Elowitt’s article.

If cats can not be herded easily because of their independence, among other qualities, dogs are a good counterparrt, as they can be managed well.

  1. Dogs can be trained. They go to obedience school and learn how to behave well.
  2. They get along with other dogs and even like playing with other dogs, some larger and some smaller than they. Some have made horses, sheep or chickens their close friends; even their nemesis -- cats.
  3. Canines listen and respond to their masters. They understand that good behavior matters and that they will be rewarded. They enjoy treats and a pat on the head.
  4. They respect rules: staying in the yard, barking to go outside, not jumping onto the couch.
  5. They protect the house and their family. They act as guard dogs to anyone that threatens their loved ones.

 While my references to dogs are meant to be humorous, law firm management is a serious subject and a major factor in the success and future of every law firm. Whether the firm is run by a Legal Administrator, a Managing Partner, a Management Committee, or a single Partner, it is important to recognize the challenges and develop a style that works for you and other members of the firm. It will make all the difference.

As Mr. Elowitt points out in the article, management is about carrying through on strategies, plans and policies. The goal is to get the lawyers’ support of the plan or policies not by herding them, but by setting a positive example, having an effective style and communicating clearly the goals that will serve the firm best. It might still feel like herding cats, but you can accomplish what’s needed.