|Image [CC] – Matthias Weinberger|
I was chatting yesterday with a great guy who’s been in-house as a GC for most of his professional life, and has recently affiliated with a law firm. He loves this firm and he loves the people he works with, but his one frustration is the slow pace of decision-making/change due to the business model for operations in the firm – even in a firm that is as progressive as the one he’s joined up with. Moving anything through a large firm partnership today is glacial, it’s inefficient, and the process is overwhelmed by the partnership’s inability to nimbly execute (think: turning an oil tanker in a bathtub).
So my point is that even if the best partners in the greatest firms have embraced super-valuable ideas to pursue transformative business strategy, their partnership model will continue to throw up operational barriers to their ability to implement change.
As Jordan notes, in larger firms, the partnership model doesn’t motivate behaviors as it might have been envisioned to do in a smaller firm environment. Instead, it creates a super-class of owners whose sole common ground is the maintenance of the status quo and rewarding short term financial returns. They hold the power to make decisions for the whole, but they don’t operate in the interests of the whole – whether the whole is defined as the entity’s current sustainability and future prospects or the long-term development and interests of the majority of firm workers.
I don’t know if this is a result of the law firm partnership business model run amok in larger firms, or just (as my Grandma used to say) “Plain Ol’ Greed” too long rewarded. But the fact is that partnership models in large firms punish and frustrate the efforts of strong leaders to execute better business decisions for the firm’s long-term health. And that includes better decisions about hiring, training, cultivating rising talent, and compensation: all based on value to the firm and to clients, and connecting performance to business goals.
Large firm partnership models allow for “super minority” packs of powerful, self-interested owners to hold captive the larger interests of firm and its future constituents. I live and work in the Washington, DC area – there’s an excellent example of such irrational dysfunction under a dome just a hop and a skip down the road from my office.