Last month, the world was transfixed by the selection of a new pope for the Catholic church. Prior to the selection of Pope Francis, there was a great deal of discussion about what type of pope would the best choice as the church is running through some fairly turbulent times.
There were those who believed that a “no-nonsense CEO” or “tough-guy governor” as the Globe and Mail suggested on March 9, 2013 would be the best pope. The chief argument for such an individual was that the Curia, and other aspects of the church, needed to be reformed to deal with the current crises and with the challenges of the 21st century. Others however claimed that the pope should only be a spiritual leader and that his only role is to make “Catholicism exciting through his beliefs” and charisma.
Thinking about this, I couldn’t help but consider how similar these arguments are to the proper role of managing partners in Canadian law firms.
Can Canadian law firms handle a no-nonsense CEO-type who forcefully directs the firm in line with her vision of the future? I believe that they can, and they must, if they want to achieve true competitive advantage in the marketplace. If firms wish to remain simply different shades of vanilla, then muddling along as unwieldy partnerships is perfectly acceptable. But real market differentiation comes from a top down vision that radiates throughout the organization – and can only be found in a corporate environment. [Now, I have heard many times that major Canadian law firms (despite being partnerships) are run like corporations and so ergo, they really do have a corporate model. If that is really true, then I challenge any commercial lawyer out there to recommend that a client form a partnership - just run it like a corporation because it will be the same thing.]
Or are Canadian law firms doomed to have simply a “spiritual head” as managing partner? Someone who herds the cats, makes appearances, gives press interviews, extols the virtues of the firm – but fears making any true strategic change lest the ship sink on her watch?
It’s still unclear at this stage what kind of pope, Pope Francis will become.
The question for lawyers around Canada is, what kind of managing partner does your firm need, and what kind does it actually have?