Monday, November 22, 2010

In trying to identify why some law firm associates succeed and others don't, one must consider the role of luck and office politics

That's the message from one law partner to Indiana Professor William Henderson who has launched a consulting company to advise law firms on how to hire job candidates who stand the best chance of "success."  We've blogged before about Professor Henderson's work and his theory that law firms will move away from the traditional factors that usually determine whether a candidate gets hired, like her academic rank and the USNWR rank of her school, towards other criteria that he hopes to identity through his interviews with law firm partners about what traits and values they think lead to success.  Now a former Kirkland and Ellis partner is expressing some skepticism about Professor Henderson's ability to develop a "recipe for success" because no statistical analysis can take into account the critical roles of luck and hitching yourself to the right star.

Henderson's researchers . . . 'pour over the resumes and evaluations of associates and partners trying to identify characteristics shared by those who have become 'franchise players' and those who haven't.' Here's what those resumes and evaluations won't reveal: the internal politics driving decisions.

'Most equity partners are talented, but equally deserving candidates fail to advance for reasons unrelated to their abilities,' Harper writes. 'Rather, as the business model incentivizes senior partners to hoard billings that justify personal economic positions, those at the top wield power that makes or breaks young careers—and everybody knows it. Doing a superior job is important, but working for the ‘right’ people is outcome determinative.'

Luck is also a factor, he writes. 'The most important things that happened to me—in work and in life—were fortuitous,' Harper says. 'No statistical model could have predicted them.'

You can read more about Mr. Harper opining on the reasons some lawyers succeed while others don't here courtesy of the AmLaw Daily.

Hat tip to the online ABA Journal Blog.


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