The techniques managers use to get through a tough agenda in a business context are completely useless in a deposition. To survive the deposition, managers are trained to avoid the tactics they would have used in a business situation. Those who lead law firms are often experiencing more of a deposition environment than a business environment. Perhaps this is why some lawyers want their firms to be more “corporate“.

This insight arises from the analysis of Wall Street Journal writer, George Anders, in his July 26 article called Depositions Require A Skill Set Leaders Don’t Use on the Job (subscription required) in the July 26 WSJ (page A17 if you haven’t thrown out your hard copy yet). Anders nicely illuminates the contrast between the very different business and deposition contexts.

FASTFORWARD: Those who live in law firms know what I mean when I say that the law firm environment resembles a deposition more than it does a corporation. A partnership meeting can be as grueling as a deposition. Support professionals (like marketing directors) often feel devoured by the environment. I believe that the lawyers training, especially litigators, fosters the propensity to lawyer their way through meetings making the leader’s job next to impossible.

Lawyers must be highly critical and analytical when creating or improving documents or winding their way through the strategy of litigation. These are essential behaviors for lawyering but lousy for managing or being managed. Therefore, unless attorneys become aware of their propensities, they will bring this mode of behavior into all they do, including how they react to management, whether firm-wide or at the practice-group, industry-group or client-team level. Support professionals like Chief Marketing Officers walk away from encounters bewildered and frustrated by these strange (to them) lawyering behaviors that people outside the profession rarely exhibit (especially in corporate settings).

PUNCHLINE: Leadership requires “followership” which means that the more an internal meeting resembles a deposition (“examination for discovery” in many jurisdictions) the less productive the business meeting will be.

GOODNEWS: I have found that lawyers who are briefed about these anti-business behavioral propensities can easily transcend them. Once they are aware of them, groups self-police those who mistake the management meeting for a deposition; the noticeable increase in progress achieved is the immediate and reinforcing reward.