Law Firm Marketing – A Search for Leadership

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The Partner Pole – Early Expressions of Law Firm Marketing

In ancient times the totem pole was a symbolic expression of past generations. It offered information about a tribe’s identity–a type of linear -understanding of generations that came before them and the leaders who showed them the way. It enforced group solidarity and provided a necessary relational context to their lives.
The totem pole was worshiped and ritualized. The history of a whole tribe could be understood by this one linear expression. Symbolic communication, as a group organizing method, is also found in law firms. Law firms proudly list their partners’ names on letterhead and post them on doorways. Often some of the names are symbols of the past–a lasting recognition of those who came before as well as those who are currently carrying the torch of the firm’s traditions into the future. This symbolic communication portrays the history of a firm’s leader-ship and is an indicator of predicted performance. But what happens when the firm’s past is forced to yield to the firm’s future? When it becomes necessary for the firm to reinvent itself and set out new organizing principles that match its vision–when the old belief system is no longer in sync with the needs and demands of changing markets and clients? Most firms are facing this challenge right now, and some are not even aware of it. The partners I spoke with clearly recognized the need to re-invent themselves or risk sacrificing growth and prosperity.

Are You the Leader?

Who among you will lead the charge? This is a very personal decision that should not be taken lightly. It will depend not only on your own willingness to take on the challenge, but also on the willingness of the key partners who make up most of the power base at your firm.

If you are up for the challenge, accept this knowledge and get on with leading. If not, find the person in your firm who is ready and able to lead and offer that person all the support you can. You’ll soon realize that the quality and commitment of your support for this person will be recognized as an important form of leader-ship in its own right.

The Genetics of Leadership

It’s been said that some people are born leaders. That may be true, but for most of us, leadership is an acquired skill that comes from our mind-set and our desire to effect positive change. Similarly, people are not born extraordinary. Instead, they choose to accomplish extraordinary things.
As recently as 2003, scientists discovered that our natural traits are not “set in stone.” (See Matt Ridley’s Genome and Nature via Nurture.) Rather, our genetic code–especially the code responsible for our brain function–is neither unchanging nor unchangeable. As we respond to the challenges and stimuli in the world, so do our genes. Depending upon our needs and the degree of our determination, different formulations of our genetic code are activated. This results in the emergence of a new pattern of genetic instructions. Contrary to what scientists formerly believed, our genes remain active, malleable and fluid throughout our lives.

Until these discoveries were made, the received wisdom was that the traits that enable us to think like lawyers or strive for excellence or find the courage and charisma to lead were handed out to us–or not–at birth. It was taken as fact that our neural makeup was primarily dictated by the genetic code we inherited from our parents. If we were fortunate enough to have inherited “smart” genes, it was anticipated that we were destined for greatness; if the opposite happened, we were destined to be the village idiot.

In reality, the reason so few of us break out of the mold is not due to genetics at all. It’s because of the fact that, strange as it may sound, most of us surrender to our strengths rather than engage our weaknesses. If we tend to be naturally gifted in mathematics, we gravitate toward mathematics. If we show an early talent in the arts, we gravitate in that direction. It’s simply easier to rely on our existing strengths than it is to develop new strengths from scratch.

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