Posted by: johnocunningham | May 27, 2011

The Importance of a Sense of Shared Purpose

Steven J. Harper, an adjunct professor at Northwestern University and a former partner at Kirkland & Ellis, submitted an interesting piece to AmLaw Daily on the demise of Howrey & Simon this spring.

He opines that contemporary law firms need a sense of cohesion that comes from a shared purpose that is something larger than increasing profits per partner if they are to survive the inevitable bumps in the road.

I think this has proven to be particularly true for firms that have grown rapidly, and therefore have little sense of community. Lateral partners or groups who showed up “for the money” will just as quickly exit “for the money” when times get tough and headhunters circle a troubled firm like vultures over a dying beast.

In his piece, Harper also analyzes the pre-demise numbers at Howrey, and ultimately dismisses the commonly postulated reasons for Howrey’s demise: too many contingent fees or European office conflicts, etc. He puts the blame squarely on a lack of leadership, mission and vision.

If law firms can’t discover or create a sense of shared purpose and cogently communicate it to all of their employees, just as their most successful business clients do, then they will not only be competitively vulnerable, they will be devoid of any internal energy and enthusiasm.


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