Published on:

Four thoughts on legal department management from a book by Henry Mintzberg

These ideas come from Henry Mintzberg, Managing (FT Prentice Hall 2009). Prof. Henry Mintzberg, a thoughtful and prolific iconoclast about management, set out the four ideas that I have adopted below and applied to legal departments.

Communication and keeping up to date. Managers thrive on talking and listening, and on emails, as their primary method of gathering real-time information. Mintzberg does not believe they rely on management information systems, such as a matter management system. Databases, he believes, are too slow, rigid, and one-way. His point is valid. General counsel use matter management systems to compile data for reports, not to guide their reports in what to do.

Clients first. Most in-house counsel spend much the largest portion of their time with clients, not with colleagues. Mintzberg made this observation generally, but I suspect he would agree with my reformulation for legal departments. Sharing information with legal colleagues has its stature, but by far the most important and time-intensive relationships are with internal customers.

Cultures converge on management techniques. “A surprising number of such studies also ended up finding striking similarities across management practices in different cultures” (at 103). We simply do not know whether law department management varies significantly from country to country, but Mintzberg may be on to something. The roles of lawyers and the expectations clients have of them may differ around the world, but the management issues and responses probably overlap considerably.

Three-part model perspective. Mintzberg describes managing on three planes: information, people, and action. More metaphorically, that means brains, hearts, and muscles or in scholarly terms as knowledge, psychology, and decisions. It is yet another model for management (See my post of May 24, 2009: models for legal department managers with 12 references.).