Issue No. 1, January 2003

Dear Colleague:

Employers want to have a workplace where lawyers learn, thrive, and produce great results. I am pleased to introduce this first issue of Management Solutions©, an e-newsletter for people interested in creating such a workplace. Management Solutions will be sent to you from time to time to highlight some current issues and innovative practices derived from my consulting work with law firms and other professional services organizations. It will inform you of important developments and resources in lawyer management, development, and retention, and it will present practical solutions to concerns voiced by lawyers and their employers.

I hope that you will find this e-newsletter to be informative and useful in carrying out your own efforts, and welcome your questions, suggestions, and feedback.

Management Solutions will be sent to you without any obligation on your part. Feel free to forward it to colleagues and encourage them to subscribe at My subscribers' list is used and maintained exclusively to distribute this newsletter, and the list will not be disclosed, sold or traded. If you prefer not to receive future issues of Management Solutions, you may unsubscribe using the link at the end of this newsletter.

Contents of This Issue

  1. Where to find my new book, Lawyers' Professional Development: The Legal Employer's Comprehensive Guide
  2. Helpful Diagnostic Tools:
    • How Effectively Does Your Firm Promote Associates' Professional Development?
    • How Effectively Does Your Firm Support Retention And Advancement Of Women Lawyers?
  3. Succession Planning: Do It Now!
  4. Solving Management Problems: Restoring Morale Among the Highest Producers- A Case Study
  5. Spotlight on Innovative Practice: A Mentoring Team for Business Development.
  6. Management Tips and Resources

1. NEW BOOK: Lawyers' Professional Development: The Legal Employer's Comprehensive Guide.

My new book offers a wealth of practical information about performance evaluations, training, mentoring, and much, much more. It was published in December 2002 and is now available from NALP at 212-835-1001 or, and from at Please visit my website,, where you can view the Table of Contents and see the broad range of subjects that the book addresses. I am gratified that the response has been extremely favorable and readers are finding the book to be a valuable and practical resource for managing all aspects of professional development.


From time to time, Management Solutions will publish tools to help you manage people more effectively. This issue includes two diagnostic tools to help you assess your efforts to promote associates' professional development and to support the retention and advancement of women lawyers. Feel free to download these Diagnostics at my website, and use them to assess your firm's efforts in these areas. If your responses suggest that the firm needs to improve in any areas, I would be happy to assist you in making your efforts more effective.

Diagnostic 1: How Effectively Does Your Firm Promote Associates' Professional Development? Law firms want their associates to reach and maintain the highest levels of excellence. They know that continuous learning and development are essential for high performance, but may not know the various areas in which to focus their efforts. I created this Diagnostic to help employers identify the key elements necessary for associates to learn, progress, and perform at their peak.

Diagnostic 2: How Effectively Does Your Firm Support Retention And Advancement Of Women Lawyers? This Diagnostic was designed to help employers develop strategies to further the retention, advancement, and career development of women lawyers. Although women make up about a third of the legal profession and 42 % of associates at major firms, the number of women partners in those firms remains low (16.30%) and the number of women in firm management and leadership roles is even smaller. Recent studies by the Washington and New York state bar associations confirm that women lawyers continue to face obstacles to success in the legal profession - and that employers who are committed to women's professional success can remove those barriers.

NOTE: One of the important things to keep in mind in developing strategies to expand career opportunities for women is that well-designed initiatives for women will ultimately benefit all lawyers.


Like all organizations, law firms depend on effective leaders. But few law firms conscientiously identify and groom potential leaders. Succession planning can help a firm prepare the next generation so that when a current leader retires, steps down, or leaves (especially if the withdrawal is unexpected), there is a smooth and seamless transition to new leadership. When new leaders can step right in, disruption is minimized, lawyers' performance and morale remain high, and clients remain confident about the firm's governance and continuity.

Preparing potential leaders is essential to succession planning, and forward-thinking firms include leadership development as part of their overall professional development program. They understand the attributes or abilities necessary to be effective leaders, i.e., to envision, determine, and articulate the firm's strategic business goals, and to direct, guide, and inspire others to achieve those goals. They identify lawyers who possess these attributes and are motivated to lead, and provide the training, mentoring, coaching, and experience needed to turn them into top-notch law firm leaders.

In creating a program to promote leadership development and succession planning, keep the following suggestions in mind:

  • Articulate the core competencies of leadership in your firm. What are the talents, skills, attributes, and behaviors that a leader in your firm should demonstrate? Because leadership development is a long process, consider the competencies that will be necessary to carry out the firm's long-term plan, not just its current business goals. Also keep in mind the fundamental values and culture of the firm, and whether the lawyers you identify as potential leaders embrace them. Lateral lawyers may need extra time and support to become sufficiently acculturated for colleagues to accept them as leaders.
  • Anticipate leadership needs. Estimate your firm's upcoming leadership needs. When and in what areas will the firm need new leaders? Consider when partners will be retiring or completing their terms, resulting in vacancies in firm management, practice groups, or committees. Also take future partnership needs into account, and include promising associates in leadership development initiatives as part of their path toward partnership. Assess these needs against the backdrop of the firm's long-term plans and the kinds of leaders who can best help the firm achieve its goals.
  • Leadership development requires many learning techniques. Formal leadership development should include many different approaches to learning, including stretch assignments, training, mentoring, and coaching. Stretch assignments test potential leaders by placing them in difficult, real-world situations. Training can include instruction in finance, management, operations, communication, marketing, and strategy, as well as principles of leadership. Through mentoring and coaching, experienced leaders can provide suggestions, challenges, feedback, support, and guidance to potential leaders, including their own successors.

     Restoring Morale Among the Highest Producers - A Case Study.

A law firm was facing a serious morale problem among associates in one of its most profitable practice groups. In particular, the five senior associates who billed the most hours and were perceived as star performers were extremely unhappy. They told the Practice Group Chair that while they liked the firm and the practice group, they were overworked, exhausted, and thinking of leaving - which would have been a terrible loss to the firm.

In working with the Practice Group, I uncovered two major management problems that were the source of these associates' frustration:

  1. There was no organized system for work assignments. Partners made their own work assignments at will and tended to choose associates they already knew and trusted. Consequently, they directed more work to the five senior associates than they could handle, while other capable associates in the group were underutilized. The marked disparity in billable hours - these five associates worked hundreds of hours more than the others - led to frustration among all associates, both those who billed high hours and those whose development and status suffered because they worked less.
  2. Partners organized work poorly and provided inadequate supervision. Many associate complaints derived from partners' poor management and supervision. For example, associates reported that delegating partners gave them insufficient information about work assignments; regularly assigned work at the last minute (work that could have been assigned much earlier); and were unavailable for - or intolerant of - associates' questions. This resulted in duplicative or unnecessary work, inordinate stress, a substantial waste of time, and many preventable write-offs.

The practice group successfully addressed these management problems through three initiatives:

  1. They instituted a work management system in which a partner, assisted by a well-respected paralegal with many years experience in the group, monitored associate work assignments. They kept track of associates' current and anticipated projects; made sure that all associates were being appropriately utilized; helped even out the workload among the associates; and assisted associates who had too much or too little work or faced unreasonable time expectations from supervising partners.
  2. They provided management skills training for all lawyers. The training curriculum included case management, delegation, supervision, and feedback skills. Partners and senior associates attended advanced workshops and seminars, and management programs were also provided for junior associates.
  3. They monitored partners' improvement in these management areas by seeking anonymous feedback from associates and letting partners know the results.

     A Mentoring Team for Business Development.

As part of its Professional Development Program, the San Francisco office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon recently initiated a novel year-long group mentoring pilot project in which five partners act as mentors to 5 first- to sixth-year associates. The mentors are proven rainmakers who need support for their business development efforts; the associates want to become rainmakers but need guidance as well as exposure to potential clients. Together, each group of lawyers provides what the other needs: mentors get help and support to pursue business development opportunities, and associates receive personal instruction and the chance to be directly involved in the mentors' business development efforts. If new business results from their joint efforts, associates who participated in recruiting that business are given the opportunity to work on the new matter and cultivate their relationship with the client.

When the group began to meet, they first addressed why and how to draft a business plan. Each group member then drafted a plan, and at the next session, the group discussed each plan, determined each member's business development interests and strengths, and set some business development goals for the group. The 10-lawyer group meets every 4-6 weeks for two hours. At each meeting, one of the mentors leads a seminar on one aspect of business development; participants report back on what they accomplished toward the goals that were previously set; and each person commits to another action item to achieve before the next group meeting.

In addition to the benefits that accrue to the program participants, the firm will enjoy the fruits of their current business development efforts as well as the prospect of future business from expert and experienced associates.


a. Tip For Better Performance Management:

"He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help." Abraham Lincoln

Lawyers want feedback so they can adjust and improve their performance to meet their employer's expectations. The problem with feedback is that it looks back on what has already happened, and the past cannot be changed. Critiquing past performance helps people understand what they need to change, but it doesn't tell them how, which can be dispiriting. On the other hand, envisioning future situations and how best to deal with them provides a dynamic learning opportunity, and opens a wide range of possibilities for positive action. So teach lawyers to engage in "feedforward," the process of making suggestions for better future performance and providing ongoing support. Marshall Goldsmith, the expert on leadership development who coined this term, points out that focusing people on future success can actually increase their chances of achieving that success.

b. Recommended Management Resources:

Here are two helpful resources for managers and professional development professionals:

  1. Professional Development Quarterly, published by Gaye Mara and Professional Development Services of Alexandria, VA. ( This quarterly journal publishes articles and research on various aspects of professional development and continuing legal education. It also lists many continuing legal education programs, especially those in the Washington, DC area.
  2. From Classes to Competencies, Lockstep to Levels, by Peter B. Sloan, Recruiting and Career Development Partner of Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin in Kansas City, MO. ( The book describes how this firm completely changed its associate advancement system from the traditional lockstep approach to a tiered system of four levels, with advancement based on articulated competencies. Forms and templates are included.

©2003 Ida Abbott Consulting

voice: 510-339-6883