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  • Writer's pictureJaap Bosman

5 characteristics highly successful managing partners have in common.

Law firms are commonly lead by an elected managing partner for a term of about 5 years. In general lawyers leading law firms do an OK job and keep the firm afloat during their term. Some managing partners excel and leave the firm in a better shape when their term has come to an end. Looking into what makes a successful managing partner we noticed they have five characteristics in common:

1. They are not afraid to lose their position

Successful managing partners rigorously focus on what is in the best interest of the firm. The interest of the firm will always precede personal interests. Successful managing partners do not fear the vote of no confidence and they to not fear confronting individual partners or the partner group with bold measures when this would be required in the interest of the firm.

In our practice we see how the fear of losing the position is holding managing partners back from doing what should be done. As the saying goes: ‘it is impossible to make an omelet without breaking eggs’. In general people are hard wired to be liked and to protect what they have gained. Successful managing partners are not bothered if they are not liked by everyone all the time and they are always prepared to ‘gamble’ their position at the risk of being demoted.

2. They have a long term strategy vision

Successful managing partners have a strong vision on where they want the firm to be in five years time. They have the ability to outline this vision and share it with the partner group within the first 100 days of their term. This will instantly make clear to everyone where the firm will be going. All the rest of their term will be focused on executing this vision in a systematic manner to ensure that the strategic goals are met at the end of the five year term. The long term strategic vision is paired to a system of continuous ‘micro adjustments’ while executing and implementing. Successful managing partners are very purpose driven.

3. They have an iron fist within a velvet glove

Successful managing partners typically have great human skills. They have great empathy and understanding of how others think and feel. The successful managing partners can be very convincing and have great persuasive powers. They recognize the importance of good an open communication and are constantly in touch with fellow partners, other office workers and with clients.

A common characteristic of the successful managing partner is however that they recognize that just being empathic, open and communicative will get you far, but not all the way. Therefor they show that they are prepared to take tough and unpleasant decisions when needed. They make that other partners know that they would not hesitate to kill off their best friend if necessary. Underneath the friendly empathic surface there always looms a menace. They will not be pussies that one can easily walk over.

4. They don’t micro manage

All characteristics that make a great lawyer become a huge hindrance when it comes to managing the firm. Being a great lawyer coincides with a meticulous attention to detail and elimination of risk. On top of this lawyers are not trained to manage a company nor do they in general have any relevant prior experience.

Successful managing partners recognize their limitations and surround themselves with skilled professionals whom they trust with day to day management issues. Being the managing partner does not imply that one knows everything better. Successful managing partners are fully aware of this. They know that their role and value to the firm lies in keeping everyone fully motivated and aligned to the strategy. They make sure that no one deviates from the track and that no one fail to deliver on time. Details obviously are important, they are just not the prime focus of the managing partners.

5. They don’t waste their time nor the time of others

At TGO Consulting we spend part of our time helping law firm leaders to be effective in their role. One of the things we have noticed though the years is that it seems very hard for managing partners not to be in internal meetings all the time. When we ask questions about this we often hear that they feel they need to be present just to demonstrate that the meeting is important or because they are ‘control freaks’

Successful managing partners know that although good communication is key, internal meeting are for the most part a ritual waste of time. They treat their time and the time of others as a precious commodity that should only be used in the best possible way. Leaving the managing partner time to focus on the success of the firm and the other partners time to focus on the clients.

Coaching law firm leadership

Managing partners need to master many skills. These five characteristics seem to be the differentiators that we noticed successful managing partners have in common. Only to a very small number of lawyers these come natural. Most however, will need some guidance. At TGO Consulting we have extensive experience in guiding and coaching law firm leadership. Enabling you to maximize the contribution to the long term success of the firm.


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