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  • Writer's pictureJaap Bosman

Law firms will need wartime leadership

No need to highlight that we are experiencing unprecedented circumstances right now. Not only are we facing a potentially life-threatening virus that is sweeping across the world causing an ever-increasing number of people to die before their time. We are also drawn into a mammoth economic crisis. We have seen economic crisis before, but never in history did we have to restart the global economy after it had come to a complete standstill. Mankind is facing a historic challenge.

Our societies, our economies, our businesses and all individual people around the world are facing an imminent existential threat. The primary focus is on the medical situation, trying to prevent as many unnecessary deaths as possible. Whole populations are locked-up and afraid. The optimism that this will soon be over, will at some point fade away. People will start to realize that they might lose loved ones, their jobs, their homes, their businesses. This is a wartime situation.

So, it is clear that for the foreseeable future it will not be business as usual. It is worrying to see that a number of law firms assumes that once ‘working from home’ is properly organized the firm will find a new normal. It is also worrying to see that there are a number of law firms that see the Corona virus as a marketing opportunity. Clients literally get inundated by Corona information bulletins and with emails ensuring them that even working from home, their law firms will remain available. Some law firms are already contemplating laying off associates and staff and others are sobbing that M&A transactions are cancelled. All these actions are reflexes that can be associated with the urge to get back to ‘business as usual’ as soon as possible. This will not happen.

As every law firm partner knows, the managing partner is often not the de facto leader of the firm. Earlier I have published an article outlining that there are ‘4 Types of Managing Partners’ (see graph). The inconvenient truth is that not every managing partner is a leader and that a ‘peace-time managing partner’ may not be suitable as a ‘war-time managing partner’.

As we are entering into turbulent uncharted waters, law firms will need leadership that has the ability to lead and unite. Law firms need leadership that is capable to find new and creative solutions and reinvent the law firm at an unprecedented pace. Law firms need leadership that is capable of taking decisions in times of great uncertainty. Law firms need leadership that can keep the partnership together but is not a puppet or a figure of compromise. Law firms need wartime leadership.

Being strategy consultants to the world’s elite law firms, we know law firm leaders pretty well. It is our estimate that about 50% of all present managing partners would not be suited as wartime managing partners. That number is not at all surprising. Why would you need a wartime leader if there is no war? But now the situation has changed, for some firms the leadership and governance structure need to change.


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