The Secret Skills Of Successful Law Firm Managers

It’s the end of May, and schoolteachers are preparing their end-of-the-year report cards.

It’s the time when your kids come home from school with quantitative measurements of their ability and knowledge, as well as qualitative assessments of their personality and willingness to learn.

Schoolteachers are well-trained in early child development techniques, in addition to contemporary psychology. There, these educators are sure to learn about the “Big Five”factors of personality—something not frequently taught in law school but easily applicable to the practice of law.

The Big Five framework (from Costa & McCrae, 1992) describes the relationship between personality and various academic behaviors. The Big Five factors, or personality traits, are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

In children, teachers try to encourage openness, which is a desire to learn and an intellectual curiosity. Children should also work to become agreeable, which is exhibited by helpfulness, cooperation, and sympathy toward peers.

In the instance of law, some of you may expect this article to discuss the need for attentiveness or emotional stability, as described by the extraversion and neuroticism factors of the Big Five.

It may surprise you, then, to discover that in successful management of companies and law firms, it’s the measure of conscientiousness that matters most.

Art Markman, PhD, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review titled, “The Hidden Skills in Your Most Reliable People,” where he discusses conscientiousness as the key factor in effective managers.

According to organizational research, conscientious employees who make sure that things get done, keep teams on track, pay attention to little details, and require minimal supervision should be fast-tracked to management roles.

Conscientiousness, according to Markman, “reflects how organized, disciplined, thorough, and careful someone tends to be.”

This is not to be confused, however, with agreeableness (another one of the Big Five).

“People (particularly men) who are highly agreeable tend to have problems as managers, because they are not willing to say things that might upset the people around them,” explains Markman.

“A person’s level of conscientiousness does not predict their level of agreeableness, and vice versa.”

So what do you do when you find a conscientious lawyer in your midst?

Don’t overwhelm them with work, Markman warns.

There’s always that one employee you trust most, who comes trough with assignments in a timely, comprehensive manner. Nevertheless, priming this person for a leadership role does not mean giving him more than his fair share of casework.

Instead, reward his fastidiousness. Give him the first choice of project or client matter. Let him have autonomy in his actions.

“That autonomy and appreciation strengthens their bond to the company. It also provides you with more opportunities to observe where their greatest contributions to the organization may lie.”

Think about organizing a mentorship program at your company—one that starts with a personality test.

And, for your children, when grooming them to take over your law practice, you now know how to read between the lines. Pull out their old report cards and understand what it actually means when the teacher says, “You son Mark is very agreeable, and your daughter Molly is quite conscientious.”

-WB

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