When I started my legal career in the
mid/late 90s, no-one ever talked of the CEO or the CFO. There was a Managing
Partner, probably a Senior Partner, and a Finance Director.
While looking at job titles may seem
simplistic, it actually throws up some interesting trends (and I'm not
repeating my rant about putting
the words "equity partner" on your business card). In some firms,
the adoption of the CEO and CFO titles genuinely represents a shift to a more
corporate structure, where the executive have more authority. This was required
as firms became more complex and more distributed - the slow, consensual nature
of partnership was hampering firms' ability to move at the pace required by the
market, and a changing governance structure was one response.
Another interesting change was the emergence
of the COO, showing in many firms a need to separate the day to day operations
from the other issues such as people, strategy and technology. Strange thought
it may seem now, twenty years ago it would not have been common for a firm to
have an HR Director, a Business Development Director or an IT Director. These
emergence of these new roles is partly a response to the increased scale of law
firms, but also a recognition that to be successful in law these days, there's
more involved in the business than simply providing legal advice.
More recently still we've seen the rise of
the CKO (chief knowledge officer) and CIO (chief information officer) in law
firms, and also the CLO (chief legal officer) as an alternative to general
counsel in the corporate world.
And this brings me to the title of the post -
an alternative meaning for CLO. The answer comes in a post (set out below in
italics) from the prolific and thought-provoking legal blogger, Julian Summerhayes about the role of the
To my mind, listening, the critical skill
Julian references is critical for all lawyers, not just in their legal work, but
also in their selling (see number one in my list of top lawyer sales fails).
So whether you're a managing partner or not, read on and reflect on how
practising and developing this skill might help you:
Most managing partners that I have met
describe their role as like herding cats.
You know the score: two lawyers can't agree
the time of day. And you magnify that up to include the plethora of
issues, including the big one - PEP - and is it any wonder that poor old
managing partner feels like s/he is dealing with a swarm of angry bees?
What do you think is the role of your firm's
I'll give you my view:
CHIEF LISTENING OFFICER (CLO).
And not the sort of listening you normally
observe which, at best, skims the surface and never really understands the
issue. No, someone who is so intensely focused on listening to you that it
Scary in what sense?
Scary in the sense that you know they deeply
care about you and your needs. They are not constantly scoping the conversation
to make their point, or talk in firm speak or make you feel (like a lot do)
that you are inferior to them (or at least your ideas).
People skills, being human and wanting you to
succeed should be the only selection criteria for managing partners.
The problem for a lot of managing partners is
that they take on too much. Their focus is ameliorated to such an extent
that they never get time to address the fundamental people issue.
Of course most large firms will have a Human
Resources department but my experience of such departments is that they are
more focused on making sure the correct procedure is followed than listening to
people. In fairness they don't really have the power to make a difference -
they know that any major decision will be deferred to one of the partners.
Without wanting to name any of the managing
partners that I worked under, the one that stands out was the one who took time
to stop by whenever he was in the office, put his head around the door and
simply say "Hello Julian. How are you?"
There was no agenda. He seemed genuinely
interested, and didn't automatically jump the fence and ask "Are you busy?" As
if I was going to confess to surfing the Net all day because I was bored out of
my mind doing crap work!
No, this managing partner made me feel, dare
I say, special.
Listening is a strategic skill.
It should be taught at every level from
undergraduate to senior partner.
As a skill set it is matchless.
How many courses have you attended on it? I
have been on loads where you are taught the art of speaking but not listening.
Isn't it wonderful when you come across
someone who intensely listens? Someone who focuses their attention on you.
As I mentioned in yesterday's post the people
we find most interesting are the people who are most interested in us.
Try it for yourself. Next time you meet with
someone just listen.
Don't do anything else.
Try not to focus on what you think they are
about to say.
Don't steer the conversation in any one way.
Let one question follow on from the next.
And don't finish the conversation until the
other person has finished what they have to say.
If you still want a managing partner then
fine but how about changing the job specification to include CLO?
Slow down and listen.
Find out something new about your staff and
remember it. Better still act on it, if there is something to act on.
It is the small detail (if you can call
listening 'small') that can often make the biggest difference.
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