Lawyers Managing Themselves - Like Driving A Car

                     Without a Driver’s License?

By Markus Hartung -  Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession 

It is hard to understand that a group of highly regarded lawyers, known for their technical excellence and expertise, forming one of the finest law firms in the world which is rooting back to the year 1909, manages to ruin this law firm within a rather short period of time. In its golden days the firm was home to more than 1200 lawyers including some 300 partners, with more than 20 offices all over the world. Now the firm is bankrupt.

Dewey’s defenders, no doubt ex-partners amongst them, may argue that it was a perfect storm. Articles about Dewey’s management failures don’t make happy reading, and the sheer sum of these failures is ludicrous. But, given that US-firms tend to move in flocks, one does wonder why this perfect storm hit only Dewey while the rest is still there – or is it just a question of time and we can expect other law firms to follow suit?

Dewey may be regarded as an extreme example for management or leadership failure but it is certainly not the only example of a poorly managed law firm. It appears that lawyers lack certain core competencies to run law firms. Are they to blame, though? They are excellent legal technicians and they are good at what they learn in law schools or universities. But what do they learn there? Certainly nothing about how to lead and manage an entity consisting of highly qualified lawyers , and some people argue that they even don’t learn “lawyering” there.

Teaching management is the reign of business schools. So – why not think about recruiting business school graduates to run law firms? There are many experienced managers out there who have proven that they are able to manage big companies, far more complex than law firms. And yet, business school graduates find a home in law firms, but only in lower ranks, not in a position to tell lawyers –especially not partners! – what to do. There is a simple reason for this, in the words of Norwegian professor Bente Lowendahl, Grande Dame of professional service firms: "Professional service firms are different to such an extent that a direct application of traditional strategic management assumptions and tools is at best misleading and at worst disastrous“.

It seems that a combination of skills is required to run a law firm. It is not enough to be a good lawyer. What is needed in addition are managerial skills. . But: The number of law schools who combine the legal education with management classes to get a grip on the entrepreneurial part of the legal industry is tiny.

Things are different at Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, Germany (

Bucerius Law School is somewhat an alien – it is the first only privately funded law school in Germany. All other law schools and/or universities are state universities. Bucerius Law School was founded in 2000 and has developed into a premium brand amongst German law schools. Measured by the number of highly qualified students who pass their exams with distinction, Bucerius Law School is second to none. Bucerius graduates have no problems finding a job of their choice – may it be in law firms, as judges or in the administration.

What is the reason for this success? Well, Bucerius students, while studying law, receive a broad education. It is called “Jura Plus” (“Jura” being the German word for “Law”). Jura Plus means that the Bucerius students, on top of their legal education, have to take classes in various other fields:

•·         Legal English (Legal English, Contract Law, Common Law)

•·         Economics (Macroeconomics, Business Studies, Financial Statement and Taxes)

•·         Studium generale (Philosophy, History, Politics, Society, Art and Culture, Nature and Engineering)

•·         Studium professionale (Hands-on training)

•·         Studium personale (Mentoring, Coaching, Soft Skills)

And that’s not all. In 2010 Bucerius founded the Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession (CLP, The CLP undertakes research on the development and dynamics of legal markets and offers training courses for associates and partners in law firms and in-house legal departments. The research activities of Bucerius CLP are practice-focused. The CLP aims to be close to the market and its players, being the first point of contact for law firms or in-house departments when it comes to questions of best practice and the dos and don’ts of law firm management and leadership. Participants in CLP’s classes directly benefit from the knowledge generated through our research activities.

Bucerius’ executive education program contains open enrollment courses, e.g. the week-long Bucerius Leadership Program, focusing on firm leadership, business development and people leadership. At the same time the CLP goes in-house more often now – into legal departments and in law firms to run tailor-made training programs.

Though Bucerius is a German institution we aim to spread our activities on a global scale. Supported through American Friends of Bucerius ( the CLP organizes lunch lectures in New York and Washington D.C, covering relevant issues regarding the legal market. In November and December Bucerius will start a strategic cooperation with the University of Navarra, Madrid, adding classes to their Masterprogram. Last but not least, Bucerius and Duke Law School are designing a completely new and innovative format for leadership courses, taking place in Germany and the US simultaneously, linked via video, to provide leadership courses to an international audience.

All in all, the competencies and skills needed to run a law firm extend far beyond technical legal skills. The earlier in life such management skills are obtained and the stronger they are integrated with the technical skills in daily law firm life, the more optimistic one should look at potential future storms hitting law firms.

Author: Markus Hartung is a lawyer and mediator. In 1999, he was elected as Managing Partner of Oppenhoff & Rädler, the first full-time Managing Partner in Germany. During his tenure, he oversaw the merger with Linklaters and served as the Managing Partner of Linklaters in Germany from 2001-07 and as member of the Global Executive Committee of Linklaters. He is a member of the German Bar Association (DAV) and Chair of the Committee on Professional Regulation. As a lawyer he focuses on conflict management, regulatory issues and professional indemnity issues. In addition, he advises law firms in strategy and management questions and coaches partners in management functions. 
At the CLP, Markus Hartung is responsible for the conception of educational and continuing education programs for legal professionals. His expertise in the framework of the CLP lies in market development and trends, management and strategic leadership as well as corporate governance of law firms. Markus Hartung holds regular public lectures on these topics. 




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