Edge International


Getting Partner Performance on Track

Getting Partner Performance on Track

At a recent summit meeting of U.S. practice group leaders in a global firm, I had the opportunity to run a leadership self-assessment (The Leadership Practices Inventory) and then ask the leaders to apply their insights to partner under-performance. The “takeaways” from this session may help any practice group leader who is charged with turning around under-performing partners.

Among the scenarios they tackled were:

Harry – a 60-year-old partner whose significant clients were providing 20% less business than before; yet Harry did not want to transition the clients to others or cross-sell potential work, even though his compensation had been suffering.

Andrea – aged 52, was running a practice that had become a commodity practice, and she tried to just work harder to maintain billings. That strategy was going to hit a wall but she seemed unable to go out and seek higher-priced work. In time, the firm might need to let the practice go altogether.

Mark – an aggressive partner in his early 40s with very high hours and strong numbers. But his style was driving associates out of the firm, and his demands were even affecting junior in-house counsel at his clients. He could not keep an assistant longer than three months.

For each of these partners, the leaders recognized that the issues could not be ignored; the consequences of doing nothing would create a ripple effect. Secondly, they recognized that they would need to apply the skills of a “difficult conversation” as well as effective leadership practices.

These were some of the practice group leaders’ insights:

In a facilitated workshop session, these practice leaders generated smart, actionable ideas in about 30 minutes. They also highlighted today’s reality – that partner under-performance, however it appears, cannot be left to some default answer. Yet effective leaders can learn to meet the challenge with well-planned conversations.

David Cruickshank

Edge Principal (1947 - 2024) advised firms on growth strategies and lateral integration programs. In addition to being a lawyer with a master’s degree from Harvard Law School and an LLB from the University of Western Ontario, David was a trained mediator who taught at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law School. He frequently trained partners and associates in management skills like delegation, feedback, managing up, and career development. His interactive courses can still be found online.