From Brian L. Davidoff’s perspective, leaders lean toward two extremes — autocratic or democratic. Their organizations, then, are either flat or pyramidal.
He aims for the middle at Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff Inc.
“If it’s too flat, you can’t get decisions made and it takes too long,” says the law firm’s managing director. “If the pyramid is too steep, you aren’t hearing the feedback sufficiently of the other folks. Good managerial decisions are the culmination of input from the balance of the organization.”
The law firm started out purely democratic about 35 years ago. But as it grew and young lawyers brought new perspectives, Davidoff realized not everyone would reach consensus on every issue.
Here’s how he manages his firm by considering every voice.
Spread the responsibility
When we look at younger lawyers or lateral partners to bring in, we look at people who can develop a book of business. We’re really hoping that the person that we bring in, ultimately, will become our longtime partner. One of the key elements of that is either that person has, if they’re more senior, or if they’re a junior lawyer, that we think they have the capability to develop a book of business.
All of our partners generate business. Many law firms … are structured where you have two, three, maybe half a dozen people who are the apex of the pyramid, and all the work flows down through them — that is not our structure. That has given our firm a lot of stability, and that — particularly in these turbulent economic times — has been attractive to other lawyers when they see if just one person left, the firm’s not going to fail.
Manage for the future
Many smaller firms have failed because of a model where you have two or three senior folks who generate the business who have not done a good job of transitioning the operation of the business to a younger generation. A lot of my job is making sure that the younger folks get into managerial roles at the firm so that when my generation’s no longer around, there’s someone else there. What we do is manage for the future.
Part of it is bringing them into various organizational committees in the firm. For example, we have a firm retreat coming up and the default might have been (having) myself organize the whole thing or maybe one of my senior partners. But what we did was we brought in one of our younger partners. He’s not doing it blindly by himself —obviously, I’m actively involved in that — but he is the one who’s responsible for putting it all together with our input, and that’s given him insight into the firm about, ‘Oh, this is there, that’s there, these structures are in place.’
Give newcomers voices
When we bring new people in, I ask them after they’ve been here for three or four months for their best practices: What have they seen in other organizations that we could do better? You really have to be open to hearing the alternatives, not to have a paradigm that, ‘This is the way it was, so this is the way it has to be.’ If you’re open to those possibilities and alternatives, you’re going to have a more successful organization.
It doesn’t mean that you swerve one way or the other. You need to have a stable ship. But you need to chart a course that has the voices of everybody.
You need to have a decision-making process, but you need to hear what’s being said and that, to me, is the key element. Making the decision is actually not that difficult if you’re open to hearing what’s being said.
Having other people know that you have heard what they’ve said [matters]. You aren’t always going to agree with them, but if they’ve had an opportunity to state their piece, that goes a long way to building consensus even if you don’t agree with them because the next time you’ve got to reach an issue, the fact that they’ve been heard is key. The ultimate decision of management is really a conglomeration of what everyone’s voices are. You’re going to have a whole lot different input and ultimately management needs to chart a course, but it shouldn’t be a course that they’ve independently set.
How to reach: Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff Inc., (310) 286-1700 or www.rutterhobbs.com