In David Maister’s book, Managing the Professional Firm, he makes an observation that most professional firms fall into two categories: Farmers and Hunters.


…like [farm] communities, these firms deliberate about what crops to sow, arrive at a (gutsy) decision, and then “bet the farm” on that crop. [They are] focused on the services they bring to market, and build their success by investing heavily in the chosen areas. They succeed through focus, muscle, and concentrated efforts in a few hand-picked areas.


Hunter firms attempt to maximize the entrepreneurialism of their members, by creating the maximum degree of individual autonomy. Rather than being “constrained” by firm wide choices on what markets to serve and which services to offer, Hunter firms encourage each individual (and each small group) to respond and adapt to the local market.

Key Traits

Maister identified what he thought to be the basic concepts of each type of firm:

Hunters Farmers
Central Principle Individual (or small group) entrepreneurialism Firmwide collaboration
Key Strengths Diversity, flexibility Focused Strategy
Internal Atmosphere Competitive Collaborative
Management Style Bottom-line numbers focus “Values” “Mission”
Self-Image Streetfighters Team players
Leader Best hunter High priest
Decision Making Decentralized (autonomous) Coordinated (interdependent)

Law Firm Examples

Seattle-based Harris & Moure could be called a “Farmer” firm. Harris & Moure focuses on a few select practice areas to the exclusion of everything else. They tout it as a strength. Their areas of practice are limited to the following:

  • China Law
  • Mongolia Law
  • Russia Law
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • International Dispute Resolution
  • International Corporate Law
  • International Maritime Law

Lawyers at Harris & Moure likely work together to to foster relationships with their clients.

In contrast, look at Morrison Foerster. Their practice page lists 137 different practice areas. It is impossible for each lawyer at Morrison Foerster to be coordinated in their efforts to develop business or market their practice. Each lawyer and practice group must hunt for their own clients.

Know Thyself

Gnothi_seautonEarly in your career (law school would be even better) it’s important to determine which type you are: a hunter or a farmer. Some people are naturally entrepreneurial, self-sufficient, and excel at casting out on their own. Other people work better in teams and thrive in collaborative environments. It’s going to be tough for you if you’re a farmer and go to work in a hunter style firm. You will likely clash with the firm culture at a deep level. That’s not to say that you cannot adapt and change to the firm’s culture – just that you’re piling an additional difficult task onto your plate.

Take the time to know what type of person you are, and learn about the culture of the firms where you want to work. It can have a significant impact on whether or not you will enjoy your career.

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