How do law firms, the market, clients, and others think about, define, and measure the “perfect partner”?
In “Defining the Perfect Partner,” Moray McLaren asks how law firms should measure partner performance. In the absence of formal nonfinancial assessments, McLaren says, a firm’s remuneration approach will define partner performance. Drawing on original data from an International Bar Association survey of hundreds of leading global lawyers, McLaren describes different strategies, including “the adoption of more-formal performance management with a move away from a reliance on purely financial metrics of success and more-curated career stages.” He says:
While autonomy and personal independence have always been celebrated as cornerstones of the profession, law is increasingly practiced in larger and more businesslike entities. Although firms have traditionally placed a premium on the advantages of collegiality among partners, we need to better understand the ways in which they are actively working to change culture by developing more accountability and less autonomy within what are major businesses today. Our starting point is, therefore, are law firms getting the behaviors they need or the behaviors they reward?
Describing how COVID-19 shifted the culture or priorities of many firms and partners, McLaren probes how firms should define performance moving forward—and how that will contribute to a more holistic vision of the “perfect partner.”
Following McLaren’s lead, we explore the question of how to define the perfect partner from two different angles—clients and the market. First, we profile Lisa Hart Shepherd’s research on “star lawyers” and what attributes clients rate as most important to them in their outside counsel. As the article makes clear, her research reveals that there is a frequent mismatch between who clients and law firms view as stars, which has important implications for how one understands the perfect partner. Second, we examine how legal recruiters view the market for senior lawyers: What do candidates seeking new homes say they wish for in colleagues? What do firms say they want in new lateral partners? Joe Macrae of Macrae and Merle Vaughn of Major, Lindsey & Africa offer insights into this fast-moving market.
We conclude the issue with a Speaker’s Corner featuring a conversation with Paul Eastwick, a professor of psychology at UC Davis and an expert in relationship science, and David B. Wilkins, Center on the Legal Profession faculty director. Eastwick studies intimate partner relationships, which, on the surface, may seem miles apart from the legal profession, but there are nonetheless important lessons to be learned around how humans form meaningful bonds. In his conversation with Professor Wilkins, Eastwick explores how relationship science thinks about core concepts like trust, collaboration, and shared values and goals, as well as why certain partnerships work and others don’t. “Some pairs will make each other very happy. Other pairs will make each other miserable,” Eastwick says. “The problem is that it’s very hard to figure out—in any prospective way—which pairs of people are going to be compatible and which pairs of people are not.” Eastwick’s work—including how to bridge differences—offers the legal profession an interdisciplinary lens into the research of relationships.