Law firm leadership: The great man, the Quaker meeting

Mark Silow, a Fox and Rothschild partner, likes "the things that have a more human element to them." A former 1960s antiwar activist, he a took a survival trip to the Utah wilderness at age 50. (Akira Suwa / Staff Photographer)

Attorney Mark Silow doesn't buy the idea that a leader in a law firm has to be a charismatic character, ready to inspire the troops.

"I’ve become somewhat of a student of law firm management," Silow, managing partner at Fox Rothschild L.L.P. told me during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer. "There are a couple of different styles.

"One I call the great man theory where you have a leader who is a visionary, who is charismatic, who says this is where we are going and everyone else be damned because I know this is the promised land," Silow said.

"I think some of the greatest successes in law come that way," Silow said. "But the great man rarely recognizes when they no longer are great and there very rarely is a succession of another great man behind the great man. There are a lot of firms who have not been able to get past that and in many cases failed or floundered because of that.

"There is the other [style], which I call the Quaker meeting," Silow continued. "You’d see that in the old line Philadelphia firms where everything is by consensus and nobody rocked the boat and everybody would go to lunch at the Union League together. I think those firms struggled because they needed a little bit more vision and a little bit more direction and a few eggs to be broken."

So what's Silow's style and how does it fit into Fox's structure?

"I think I’m a very reasonable, rationale calm person. I think it sets a tone. And there are other leaders in the firm that are similar," Silow said.."I think we’ve been very fortunate that the firm has produced a number of leaders that have a similar attitude or demeanor.

"The management style I have and the management structure of our firm is a little bit more corporate where I am a CEO. We have an executive committee that acts like a board of directors which both ratifies and challenges my decision making," he said.

Monday's blog post: Silow on managing employees who argue professionally.