Reviewed by: Eduardo Reyes
Author: Maureen Broderick
Publisher: Wharton School Publishing
ISBN: 13: 978-0-13-7044252-4
The Art of Managing Professional Services joins a growing body of texts that treat professional services firms, most of them current or former partnerships, as businesses with their own peculiar features.
The US-based author, Maureen Broderick, worked in law firms and accountants for 20 years, before setting up as a consultant to professional services firms, and her easy facility with the language and culture of the professional environment is one of the real pluses of the book.
This allows her to transpose some mainstream business theory to the professional services model in ways that seem appropriate.
Perhaps more importantly, the authentic feel of these ‘lessons from leaders’ comes from 130 in-depth interviews carried out with the leaders of professional firms. 17 of these were law firms in the US and UK, including Skadden Arps and Clifford Chance. From these interviews, Broderick has identified 10 topics taking up one chapter each, including ‘vision, values, and culture’, ‘people’, ‘services’, ‘finance’, ‘brand’, ‘structure’ and ‘style of leadership’.
The author’s observations are mostly based on the experience of larger commercial firms, but much of what she writes is ‘scalable’.
The project planning tool outlined in the ‘finance’ chapter, for example, is equally relevant to all sizes of firm, as is guidance around the financial dashboard necessary to spot problems early.
While some lawyers may find sections dedicated to ‘efficiency’ a little cold, the material which Broderick draws on for ‘Five Essentials of Vision, Values, and Culture’ comes straight from the testimony of those 130 leaders.
At the centre of her decision to deal with professional services firms as a distinct group is this observation, made in a section headed ‘Why Getting It Right Is So Challenging’: ‘In traditional command-and-control environments, the distinction between leaders and followers is clearly defined… The opposite is true in the partner/owner enterprise.’
Broderick recognises that in such an environment ‘organisation design is not a rigid process’, and the strength of her book is that she suggests ways that firms should become more self-aware and organised about the process of achieving their aims without supplanting the values and structures that distinguish professional services firms from other business models.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor.