There is a very interesting debate going on at the moment over on the Law Society Gazette’s LinkedIn group about the role of non-lawyers, and whether 2010 will see an influx of new external talent into firm management. Any LinkedIn members would be well advised to check it out, and to get involved.
The consensus, if there is one, seems to be that many law firms need a more commercial approach to management – and that bringing in more talent to operational roles is a key element in this.
However, top class professionals in finance, marketing, HR, IT, as well as business management generally, will not accept being treated as ‘second class citizens’. Firms need to think very seriously about their management and ownership structures if they are to attract and retain people of the requisite calibre. Value creation does not begin with the legal work, and the value that these people add must be recognised.
The key issue in managing the relationship between solicitors and non-legal staff is communication. Lawyers have a completely different mindset from accountants, marketers, IT or HR specialists. Often, the mindset engendered by legal training leads people to value faultless arguments and a focus on problems rather than opportunities, which can be unhelpful in achieving the compromise needed for successful management.
Non-legal professionals need to understand this mindset, and vice versa, in order for communication to be successful. Above all, lawyers need to recognise that the other professionals with different backgrounds and functions in their midst are every bit as valuable to the business as their fee earning staff.
Whether or not 2010 sees a further shift towards non-lawyers, it is a question for firms of how they organise their management. Often, the best option can be to bring in the expertise on a retained basis, so long as this expertise is provided by someone who knows the legal market and the ‘lawyer mindset’ inside out.