Many biglaw leaders should take heed.
In last weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, columnist Peggy Noonan lamented the loss of what she called “adult supervision.” (http://www.peggynoonan.com/article.php?article=531)
Commemorating the 50th annivesary of To Kill A Mockingbird, she recalls the “wise and grounded Atticus Finch, who understands the world and pursues justice anyway, and who can be relied upon.”
She then rattles off a list of world leaders whom she regards as young — President Obama is 48; British Prime Minister Cameron is 43; Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (no relation) is 51. Noonan says they could benefit from the presence of wise advisers like the venerable Finch.
Of course, there’s an obvious problem with her analysis: Finch himself was about the age of the “young men” she now finds in need of wise older counsel. So she misses an essential point: Wisdom is neither the exclusive province of the old nor the assured destination of advancing age.
But Noonan states an important truth when she views the modern world and observes that “there’s kind of an emerging mentoring gap going on in America right now.” She sees it in “a generalized absence of the wise old politician/lawyer/leader/editor who helps the young along, who teaches them the ropes and ways and traditions of a craft.”
That is undoubtedly true for much of biglaw. Why?
There are exceptions within and among firms, but this development flows directly from the MBA-mentality that now dominates most large law firms. It forces leaders and everyone else to focus on short-term metrics — individual billings, billable hours, associate-partner leverage ratios.
The resulting behavior is predictable. Each individual’s drive to attain and preserve position in accordance with such metrics leaves little room (or time) for the personalized mentoring that turns good young lawyers into better older ones. There’s no metric for measuring the future contribution that mentoring makes to the current year’s average profits-per-equity-partner.
For firms adhering to the pervasive biglaw model, the absence of a mentoring metric makes all the difference. In Hildebrandt Baker Robbins’s 2010 Client Advisory to the legal profession, one of the pioneering consultants responsible for the proliferation of biglaw’s misguided metrics aimed at short-term profit-maximizing concludes, “There is a management adage that ‘what gets measured gets done.'” (http://www.hildebrandt.com/2010ClientAdvisory)
I would add this corollary: Throughout biglaw in particular and the world generally, that which lacks a metric gets ignored.
Unfortunately, some of those things are important.