Are you a hunter of a farmer?

“Keith  – I’m a lawyer, what are you even talking about?”

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

Farmers:

…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.

Hunters:

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

“Farmer” firms focus on a few select practice areas to the exclusion of everything else. These firms can be solo shops or scale up to be “boutique” firms with dozens lawyers that serve F100 clients. They’ve decided what not to focus on. They believe that by pairing down services to their clients, they can produce higher quality. Farmer firms use this position of limited/focused services to market themselves as experts to new clients.

“Hunter” firms exist to take on almost every single client possible. These firms can range from solos practicing threshold law (you’ll take on any client that crosses your office’s threshold), all the way to the largest firms in the world. They take on all comers. Have a problem, they’ll try to solve it no matter what. Hunter firms position themselves in the market as people who can handle anything. But this also means each lawyer and practice group must hunt for their own clients.

Law Firm Hunters or Farmers – Know Thyself

Early 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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