Law Practice Management, 1220 WYBJ, Vol. 43 No. 6. 50

PositionVol. 43 6 Pg. 50

Law Practice Management

No. Vol. 43 No. 6 Pg. 50

Wyoming Bar Journal

December, 2020

Passive Management: Is Anyone Actually Steering the Ship?

I have worked with over 1,000 law firms over the years and it certainly seems to me that a number of smaller law firms around the country are being passively managed. Is this a problem? Well yes, it very well could be.

Now I define passive management as reactive decision making or making decisions only when absolutely necessary. Often in such firms the managing partner is serving on a part-time basis without compensation and his or her primary responsibility is to address staff related issues and administrative functions when deemed necessary. The reality is that in a firm being passively managed no true firm leadership exists. From a business perspective, no one is steering the ship.

This seems to be particularly true in smaller firms for any number of reasons. The managing partner may have concerns over how his or her actions may be perceived by the other partners. Such concerns might be a fear of being perceived as playing favorites, as being overly protective, or unduly harsh. Other managers avoid tough decisions altogether perhaps with the naïve hope that the problem will eventually go away if it is ignored long enough. Heaven forbid anyone ever question the propriety of a decision! Sometimes the underlying problem may be as simple as a fear of jeopardizing the partner-to-partner friendships that originally brought the group together. Of course there will always be those few who simply have no idea what to do with the problem at hand. Worse yet are those situations where the entire group of attorneys decides to manage by consensus. This is the ultimate when it comes to the lack of a ship’s captain because in these firms decisions are made at the speed of molasses if they are made at all.

There is a downside to passive management due to associated malpractice concerns and this is where the problem lies. Consider a situation where a partner is seriously depressed as a result of going through a difficult divorce. As this divorce drags on, financial pressures mount and the attorney begins to demonstrate a growing reliance on alcohol. Now personal friendships and even loyalty come into play and this attorney, who may be developing a true impairment, receives support from his peers at the firm. Although personally supporting this attorney...

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