In his newest book, Tackling Partner Underperformance in Law Firms, Edge International partner Nick Jarrett-Kerr addresses a highly sensitive issue that has faced nearly every law firm at one time or another: What do you do when one of your partners is not pulling his or her own weight?

In preparation to write the book, Jarrett-Kerr conducted a ground-breaking, in-depth survey of partner underperformance at 22 law firms of all sizes from around the world. He then examined pertinent academic research from various disciplines in light of his own unique, wide-reaching blend of knowledge and experience in the fields of law-firm strategy, governance and leadership development.

The result is a realistic and comprehensive – and always compassionate – exploration of the roots and causes of partner underperformance. The book also offers a spectrum of strategies and best practices that may be undertaken by law firms that are managing partner underperformance (or are working to prevent it), depending on their particular goals and circumstances.

Jarrett-Kerr defines underperformance as “the consistent failure of a partner to meet the firm’s reasonable expectations or standards for productivity, profitability, quality, technical proficiency, client service or interpersonal relationships.” Underperformance by a partner is a problem that firms often wish they could sweep under the rug for a host of reasons, but Jarrett-Kerr points out that ignoring the situation can lead to potentially serious conditions for the firm, including:

  • diminished profitability
  • loss of opportunity
  • disaffection of high performers
  • challenges to the firm’s values, and
  • falling morale (p. vii)

Tackling Partner Underperformance in Law Firms provides guidelines that firms can use to determine and assess critical areas of performance, and examines how a compensation system can be optimized "that will align with partner performance.” Jarrett-Kerr lists motivators for strong performance, and sets out the various causes of underperformance, including: stress and depression; burnout and boredom; failure on the part of the partner to keep up with the pace of change; internal office politics; personal problems; and several other factors.

Jarrett-Kerr’s wide-ranging and highly user-friendly book goes on to set out plans and approaches that can help firms to support partners as they return to productivity, and it also addresses the issue of how to terminate the agreement if a solution cannot be reached. Most readers will find it reassuring to learn that in the majority of cases, underperforming partners leave before they need to be asked to do so.

Nick Jarrett-Kerr’s background, which includes eight years as chief executive partner at a leading regional firm in the UK, and ten years as a consultant to firms in 22 different countries on three different continents, has made him an authority on management and leadership topics with an emphasis on strategic and business planning, as well as issues of governance and structure, partner compensation and strategy execution. He is the author of Law Firm Strategy – After the Legal Services Act published in November 2009 (Law Society Publishing) and he is a visiting professor at Nottingham Trent University, where he leads the strategy modules for the Nottingham Law School MBA.

Edge International welcomes this contribution to the growing library of world-class law-firm resources that have been produced by our outstanding partners. We are proud to have been involved with Ark Group and Managing Partner in the creation of this book, and to have sponsored The Edge International 2011 Survey into the Management of Underproductive and Underperforming Partners which serves as its foundation, and which appears in the book as an Appendix.

Tackling Partner Underperformance in Law Firms is available from MP Managing Partner/ARK Group Publishing.

Mark your calendars! Nick Jarrett-Kerr will facilitate a web-based discussion on the subject of partner underperformance on July 18, 2012, 12 to 1 p.m. EDT. This Ark Group webinar should be attended by managing partners, senior partners, heads of practice groups and members of your firm’s C-suite. See agenda and register here.