Last week I was given a business
card by a lawyer I was talking to. On the card, underneath their name, was
written "Equity Partner" in a fairly bold, not-to-be-missed font.
Tony showed the proof of his
"Legal Jedi Master" card to the managing partner more in hope than
It struck me, that were I ever to
hit those heights in a law firm (I bailed out of private practice before
putting those magic words in my email signature) I'd probably be pretty pleased
with myself. And rightly so. It's a position many people strive for and
certainly for those in the upper tiers of the legal world, can be very
lucrative and rewarding.
The title marks you out as an owner
of the business and as a result conveys a certain status within the firm which
undoubtedly provides very practical assistance in getting things done quickly
through the firm's support infrastructure.
But, the question that troubled me
was the message that the title communicates to someone outside the firm.
I posed the question on Twitter,
and got some fascinating comments back.
"adds pomposity and confuses
"I think it's wrong. Many clients
don't know what it means, in the real world."
"It's a badge of seniority but
non-lawyer clients might not know what it means. Also = unlikely to do much of
your actual work."
" It would make me think,
"Ah, so you're the reason for my large bill" "
The theme that stood out strongly
for me was the internally-focused nature of the title.
Of course for fellow lawyers in
private practice, and for in-house lawyers, the title and connotations will be
understood. However, aside from the fact that there a huge number of purchasers
and influencers who may not know what it really means, I wonder if there is an
opportunity lost in not using a job title that is more aligned with the
lawyer's actual role.
There are a number of ways that
could be approached. For a start, as I've discussed before, a market strategy
that is structured around a client's vertical
industry sector is quite common. Would reference to specialism in a
vertical sector as well as a practice area (or even instead of...) make sense?
What about an alternative based on a description of the relationship with the
client, so for example separating out relationship managers (I know the "s" word is
maybe a step too far), technical specialists, project leads etc. For large
scale project work this delineation of responsibility could also add
credibility to the project management ethos espoused by many of the top firms.
Another driver that could force to
revisit job titles is the changing career structures that have been emerging
over the past five years or so. Many firms now have a senior designation for
those lawyers who want to stay with the firm long term, but do not want the
additional commitments (time, financial or management) that go with partnership.
As the next generation of lawyers move through the ranks with their different
cultural approach to work, life and career, will the old hierarchical, largely
tenure-based titles still prove effective?
Perhaps the biggest opportunity for
fresh thinking in this area (at least here in the UK) comes from the influx of
new competitors into the market when the winds of deregulation blow through the
profession over the coming months. Much has been written about the potential
impact on law firms serving consumers, but make no mistake change is afoot in
the world of commercial law too.
Aside from further consolidation,
which I believe will be driven globally as well as in response to our own
market conditions, the emergence of the LPO model and flexible resourcing
models such as those from Axiom or BLP's lawyers on demand, will challenge
incumbent firms to revisit their business models. This will invariably have
implications for resources and career paths, and presents the perfect
opportunity to revisit job titles.
While it may seem trivial, job
titles do usually matter both to the holder, and in some contexts, to clients
and prospects. A new entry to the law firm market will have the chance to think
about this afresh, not restricted by history or tradition.
My sense is that these organisations will not default to titles like
"Assistant", "Associate" or "Equity Partner" and in using something a bit
bolder and more relevant, will be able to send a signal to the market, both to
potential clients and potential employees!
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