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This article is written by Aditya Shrivastava, content marketing executive at iPleaders.

A few days after I joined a reputed MNC in India, I realized my reporting manager wasn’t remotely close to what I’d expected. I thought I could do a better job at it than him.

This wasn’t because he was too strict or demanding. In fact, he became fond of me in a couple of weeks. My expectations didn’t match reality because he just didn’t know how to handle the projects at hand, the employees reporting to him or issues arising out of the project.

After speaking to a couple of friends in various organizations, I realized that this problem isn’t specific to my office only. There is a dearth of managerial skills in lawyers working in companies across the country. To be absolutely fair to them, they cannot be blamed for it. At law school, while aiming to graduate with a degree in law, management is not a subject that gains any importance; it is an acquired skill. However, the magnitude of this incapability is far-reaching.

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As per, according to the National Association for Legal Professionals Foundation, in 2010, firms with 251 to 500 attorneys lost 19% of their associates, with the top reason for departure listed vaguely by firms as “work quality standards were not met.” Poor management is one of the key factors that most lawyers working in a company complain about. While the companies are hell-bent on providing world-class customer experience, there is little or no attention paid to issues employees are facing. The case worsens, especially when in a compliance or consultancy company, legal work is generally put at the backend.

In management advice books, David Maister provides some thought-provoking pieces on the management of the global services firms. I would like to quote what he has to say about lawyers turned managers, “The ways of thinking and behaving that help lawyers excel in their profession may be the very things that limit what they can achieve as firms. Management challenges occur not in spite of lawyers’ intelligence, but because of them.”

What he says stands true. Lawyers are a very self-oriented species. They only know how to manage their own work. Most of the lawyers listen to their clients only to the extent they are able to extract relevant information from them. The minute the information turns into a rant or a sad-tale, they are likely to turn a deaf ear. However, this is a problem the minute they step inside a company. Most companies do not function like law firms. The quest for autonomy combined with high level of skepticism can make a lawyer a disastrous manager.

A lawyer may be exceptionally brilliant at what he does but he might make a terrible manager. Here are some reasons why :

1#  Misuse Of The Newly Found Freedom

A company’s work environment is quite different from a litigation firm. In a typical litigation law firm, the day starts with attending court proceedings. After a whole day full of astriction, lawyers return to their desks and bury themselves in huge files, drafts, research, and clients. There is never a fixed time to return home. However, a company generally expects all their employees to enter the office by 9 and leave by 6, unless the workload says otherwise.

The leaves you are entitled to in a company are in the hands the HR Manager. But allowing those leaves is solely at your reporting managers discretion. While everyone in my previous office used to enter the office at 9 and leave by 6, irrespective of whether the work for that day has been done or not, our manager used to walk in around 02:00 pm, check his emails and leave. His major concern was client retention, which he assured by delegating all of his responsibility to the team. He worked from home on most days. The repercussions of such laid-back attitude were that the company lost one major project. In addition, as his focus was on client retention, the company has not been able to get hold of any new client.

A cultural shock from a tough-on-deadlines and strict work culture in a law firm to a relatively relaxed company (not all companies are relaxed) is likely to affect the work quality of a lawyer recruited by the company as a legal manager.

2# Professional Detachment And Dispassionate

Lawyers are professionals who are known to be low on socializing skills and team bonding. Ask any lawyer: Is a certain position you hold more important than relationships? Most of them would pick the former. Being low on social skills and intimacy is one of the biggest challenges a lawyer can face as a manager. A great business strategy backed by law revolves around being a team player. All the employees, whether big or small roles, need to be understood, appreciated, criticised if needed, involved and motivated. Lawyers are generally so focussed on the result that they turn a blind eye towards such crucial aspects. It doesn’t matter if they are dealing with the clients or the employees. If it comes to legally assisting a company’s business they can be pretty clinical in their approach. Their approach is based on checking on performances, scorecards, incentives and other metrics.

If you ever ask a junior lawyer if he was coached well while he was assisting a senior, he would often say, that he learnt by doing the work himself. Unlike doctors, lawyers are mostly self-trained and therefore believe in the same when they switch to the companies. Rather than coaching or mentoring, they provide solutions like shadowing, which is a corporate terminology for seeing your colleagues and learning by yourself. This leads to the freshers facing issues in adapting to the work, without any guidance and subsequently quitting.

3# Low-Trust Work Culture

Lawyers are extremely low on the trust factor. Termed as “professional skeptics,” a lawyer is trained to be suspicious. It is also because that helps them have an eye for detail and they don’t miss out on anything. Needless to say, after reading numerous case laws and subjects like criminology, it becomes difficult for lawyers to trust anyone easily. This is one major quality for a lawyer to possess because it may eventually lead to victory in a case.

However, this particular quality turns problematic when they cannot trust their own employees. Generally, in a low-trust environment, no one relies on anyone. This leads to a huge communication gap in a team, and it becomes more susceptible to fall out. Often large team building and maintaining uniform quality standards come out as a major challenge in such cases.

#4 Challenges To Collective Decision Making

The very essence of legal work culture is constant competition and contesting others. Most lawyers are trained to disprove another’s idea by coming up with a better idea. A lawyer is on a constant quest to fetch something better in terms of research, contentions or even a plan of action.

When such a group of individuals is put together in the same room, imagine the fallout that is bound to happen.

In a typical office meeting, we used to face endless theoretical explanations, countless rhetorical, pompous saber-rattling and were often in the middle of nowhere. The worst part about it was that our boss was equally involved in these debates, and did not act as a moderator. Coming up to conclusions in such a case becomes troublesome because the decision-making process becomes time-consuming and less effective.

If you have ever worked in a corporate set-up with an ineffective manager, you would probably agree with all that is written above. If your manager was good, you might differ. However, classic business strategies by stereotypical legal managers can only go to the extent of meeting targets. When it comes to employee satisfaction or retention, they suffer massively. This chaos requires a cultural revolution. It is at this point when a company should take steps to ensure that proper business administration techniques,  training material through online courses, and tools are provided to lawyers, who are being inducted into the company.

After all, a lawyer’s tactics should be a boon for the company.


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