Content Solutions for Business

Globe column advocates return to the past

I found this Globe and Mail article by law firm recruiter Carrie Mandel somewhat humorous and a throwback to what has been tried before and not always worked at law firms.

Mandel advocates that law firms reach beyond their current hiring practices and bring in people from industry to run their firms. I am not going to debate that a fresh eye is welcome.

Mandel praises Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP and McCarthy Tétrault LLP, (clients perhaps?) for hiring COOs from outside the legal business and suggests it’s something new.

Not even close. It’s a cycle that law firms have been going through over the past 40 years. In 1980s and early 1990s, law firms often had a chief administrator who was usually an accountant or management consulting professional. Then the trend in the early 1990s was for law firms to hire CEOs from outside the legal industry. That was an abysmal failure and most leadership structures today at the big firms have a partner at the helm.

Why? Because lawyers own the business and most lawyers are not prepared to take marching orders from non-lawyers nor should they as business owners.

Mandel argues that firms reach outside for things like marketing directors. In 20-plus years of writing about the legal profession — starting when there were only a handful of marketing directors at law firms — I’ve seen that with mixed success. (I remember one firm that hired someone from the cosmetics industry. The person lasted maybe six months. There are many others who have stopped in for a cup of coffee before moving on.)

Making the leap from a business with a CEO structure, with one person in charge, to an environment where you have multiple owners is a challenge that many cannot handle.

Mandel is right when she says law firms can learn from people who come from other industries. But it’s just not that simple. Their success will depend on their ability to juggle the challenges that come with working in a partnership model. It’s not for everyone and it is not a panacea.