Ouch! John O’Donnell pulls no punches in his letter when he says ‘most solicitors are useless at business’. I would put it slightly differently. Many solicitors have no head for management. This is not their fault but a factor of legal training and the realities of life in private practice.
An experienced lawyer told me, when I joined the profession after a quarter of a century in nursing, that law is a testing profession. ‘There’s you, the client, then there’s God,’ he observed bluntly. I can see what he meant. Lawyers deal with solving specific problems for specific clients. That requires a very narrow focus.
Effective management requires a very wide focus and arguably therefore the best lawyers are likely to be the worst managers – clients do not want you to have the practice budget or strategic plans in the back of your mind when advising them on a knotty issue of trust law.
Furthermore, of course, most law practices (except the largest) are not amorphous organisations where nobody is really sure who is the boss; they are relatively small businesses where the partners are paying staff out of their own pocket.
Good management requires a degree of detachment that many partners would find difficult, if not impossible, when considering the running of their business.
I agree that in many areas there is a ‘laddish’ culture and a degree of machismo which acts as a barrier to entry to women and minorities.
However, the roots of this do not lie in the arrogant and profligate habits of a few egotists who would be unpopular in whatever field of endeavour they had chosen, but rather in the lack of proper, coherent and effective management at grassroots level.
Howard Shelley, QualitySolicitors CMHT, Walsall