Law Practice Management

Why a 'star culture' can hurt law firms in the long-run


Too many law firms are giving preferential treatment to star performers who behave contrary to firm culture, according to two law firm experts.

Star treatment fosters a double standard that can create resentment and undermine the performance of the entire firm, according to an Am Law Daily article by Patrick McKenna, who co-leads a program for new law firm leaders at the University of Chicago, and California lawyer Edwin Reeser, who has served in management positions at several law firms.

True power lies with high-performance teams, rather than single persons, McKenna and Reeser say. But some firms aren’t getting the message.

“In a star culture, the best people supposedly rise to the top in a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest fashion,” according to McKenna and Reeser. “They rank their partners, pitting professionals against each other. More and more firms regularly eliminate, or de-equitize, the bottom performers—they ‘cull the herd’ to boost profits. In such cultures, fear dominates. Partners worry about whether their names will appear on the de-equitization list and whether they can beat out their peers for recognition. In a culture that pits one colleague against another, would you trust any colleague enough to share your ideas, your work product, or your clients with him or her?”

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