Partner, can you spare a dime?

Last week, we discussed the first part of an interesting essay by former managing partner Edwin Reeser that appeared in the ABA Journal. Today we’ll tackle part two.

Are you still depressed after reading in-house lawyer David Mowry’s recent reflections on the legal profession? If so, maybe stop reading here and come back later.

But if you’re willing to wallow, on this Friday the 13th and Yom Kippur, venture beyond the jump….

I think that Ed Reeser intended part two of his essay to be cheerful, almost inspirational. After chronicling various depressing developments in Biglaw, which readers of Above the Law are all too familiar with, he gets to his prescriptions for change:

Can a law firm that has lost its way resurrect itself by finding its culture once again? That depends on the unique circumstances of each firm and the condition it is in when the effort begins….

Firms with real leaders will have a chance to make it. That means the first key will be whether the firm retains enough people in positions of power and influence who embrace the core values of its culture, or can identify and put such people in key positions. Firm culture may have been diluted through inattention internally, and through lateral transfer additions made without identifying and requiring adherence to those core values during the hiring process. A second key is whether, bound together by culture, the firm “leaders” will subscribe actively to being creators of enterprise value that benefit the entire firm (and themselves in that process), rather than an elite entitled to withdraw wealth from the firm (even if it is at great cost to those beneath them in the hierarchy). This is such a fundamental feature of leadership that Confucius identified it thus: “To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.”

Firms just have to find those leaders, put them in the positions necessary to make it happen, and get behind them with the support needed to work positive change. It won’t be easy. It will be worth it. It is a simple matter of choice, sponsored by a single question: Do you have the courage and culture to do it, and to do it together?

Reeser begins his final paragraph by saying that this “isn’t a gloomy scenario,” but I respectfully dissent. Although some firms do have great leaders with solid values and a long-term outlook, many other firms have leaders who are self-interested, focused on the short term, abysmally poor managers, or some combination of the three. Many managing partners are, as Reeser puts it, “an elite [that feels] entitled to withdraw wealth from the firm,” rather than guardians of an enterprise that existed long before they arrived and will endure long after they’re gone.

But maybe I’m being unduly pessimistic. Feel free to check out Reeser’s complete essay (and his other writings), then share your thoughts with me in the comments.

BigLaw is looking for change in all the wrong places: Part II

Earlier: Biglaw Today: ‘Looking For Change In All The Wrong Places’ (Part 1)
Do Not Become a Lawyer


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