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The Möbius strip of hire the firm or hire the lawyer

One of the most profound conclusions I drew from Boris Groysberg, Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance (Princeton Univ. 2010) concerns the ageless debate: should a law department base retentions on the law firm or the individual partner. The iconic strip serves as a useful metaphor.

Groysberg’s fundamental point applied to this debate would be that law firm partners with big books of business, who pride themselves as portable because they themselves are the brand and the brains, are misguided. In fact, to a degree they typically do not recognize, their success comes from and depends significantly on the team and firm they belong to.

Like the famous one-sided helix, neither the firm nor the partner holds the upper hand and all the labored debates over which enjoys primacy will eventually merge in recognition of the other side.