I found a treasure and I want to share it. Bruce MacEwen’s piece on Arnie Jacobs in his Adam Smith, Esq blog today contains riches beyond even Bruce’s expectations and it is my pleasure to highlight a few of them.
The treasure I discovered is the truth that lies at the heart of our profession, extracted from Proskauer’s Arnie Jacobs by Bruce MacEwen with surgical precision . When you read this piece you will learn (or be reminded) that Law is a profession and its future lies in the hands of the lawyers who love it.
Here is my evidence in the form of excerpts from Bruce’s fine work today:
"…over the last 15 years a grand total of two partners (lateral and home-grown) have left [Proskauer] for another law firm
"What, then, keeps a firm cohesive?, [Bruce asks]. ‘It’s a conjunction of two things: (1) partners who are great lawyers; and (2) knowing that they’re not going to leave." If you have those two things, you know you can cross-sell your partners’ expertise to your clients, that they’ll perform, and that they won’t try to walk out with the client.
"It’s ironic, but laterals such as me treasure our high ‘collegiality quotient’ even more than the home-grown partners do: They’ve experienced the unhappy alternative.
"How does Proskauer maintain this? ‘We reject the 800-pound gorillas; that’s a lot of it." Even those with a big book of business? "Especially those, if their personalities won’t mesh."
"What advice would he or does he give to associates? "Oh, my, the law is a wonderful profession. As I was riding down Fifth Avenue in a cab this morning on the way to work, looking at Central Park, I had the thought—which I have 3 days a week out of 5—that I’m one of the most fortunate people alive to be able to do what I’m doing. People think this is hokey, but there’s a real intellectual challenge to it; that’s tremendously attractive to me.
"And another thing: In how many professions can one be truly creative at a young age? Maybe investment banking, certainly research, maybe some doctors, but there are very few. Lawyers have that opportunity.
"I ask Arnie for his perspective on how law firms build themselves and grow, since every strategic plan of the AmLaw 100 places that objective front and center.
"Build on your strengths." Don’t try to work on your weaknesses? "No—build on your strengths." Moral: Concentrate on your strengths; don’t try to build something from the ground up just because it’s sexy and everybody else seems to be doing it.
"The most obvious change has been the emergence of full-time law firm CEO’s, who do not practice at all.
"Will we ever see a non-lawyer CEO of a law firm?"
"First of all, the CEO needs respect from the partners. He or she must be not only a lawyer, but a practitioner they can respect. Second, a non-lawyer would lack the knowledge base indispensable to actually understanding a law firm. Sure, you might get somebody who was familiar with professional service firms in general, but there’s nothing more horizontal than a law firm’s structure.
"So could we ever see it? Sure, it’s possible we could, but I’d wager it would serve as a cautionary tale for other firms not to emulate.
Punchline: The wisdom that surfaces in Bruce MacEwens masterpiece with Arnie Jacobs provides the highest definition of what the legal profession is. The noisy distractions of those who are trying to figure out how to manage a law firm like a fast food restaurant or a department store or products company that sells detergent just don’t get it. The legal profession can learn and adopt principles and lessons from other industries and professions but to prosper it must remain exactly what it is – a profession (the way Arnie Jacobs sees it) Read the entire post and get a bonus – Bruce leads us to a book authored by Arnie’s son (a book that resided on the New York Best Sellers List for a while).