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Dear New Managing Partner,
Welcome to the business side of your firm and your profession. Until now, you have primarily concentrated on the professional side-focusing on the practice of law, interactions with your peers inside and outside the firm, and relations with your counterparts in the corporate world.
From this point on, however, that portion of the pie representing your professional life will decrease as you spend more of your time with a new breed of animal. First will come the financial types, the bankers who will want (or maybe not want) to lend the firm money; the accountants who will tenaciously audit the heck out of the firm's numbers; the labor lawyers who will advise you on why you just cannot fire that disgruntled associate; the ethics gurus who will rattle the saber of Sarbanes-Oxley every time you think about a new client or new matter.. The list goes on and on, and this portion of your pie will become larger and larger while your first love-your practice-becomes smaller and smaller.
But don't panic. I am your firm administrator, and if you use me properly, I can truly become your best friend and help you skirt the quicksand of the business of law. In addition, I am the least threat to you surviving the "politics" of your firm. When it comes to making business-related decisions, I am the best asset you have.
So, please let me begin by sharing with you some of the institutional knowledge I have acquired while in the business side of the profession:
The firm's finances. There are a number of essential questions that I can help you address. Among them are details on where our finances currently stand and what our targets are; what key indicator reports you should look at daily, weekly and monthly; and what our long-term and short-term debt is. Also to address: Do we have any major capital expenditures on the horizon for the next year or two? If so, is our cash flow sufficient to handle these expenditures, or will you have to visit those bankers sooner rather than later?
The firm's strategy. Let me tell you about the private discussions behind the "public" plan, such as which practice areas are being targeted for death and who we have been talking to about possible merger or acquisition opportunities. Oh, and I need to share with you the private study we had McKinsey do regarding the viability of our surviving as an entity if we don't make any changes.
The firm's partners. Let's talk about them (in strict confidence, of course). We have several in therapy for depression, and a few more who are being treated quietly for substance abuse. Also, IT staff have found one partner making highly inappropriate use of the systems late at night when he is purported to be working on client matters. By the way, we have similar problems within the associate and staff ranks as well.
But all the news is not glum. Sitting in the catbird seat, so to speak, I have been able to observe many people from a rather objective position and I am impressed with the overall quality and dedication of your partners. I have also noted a number of younger partners who appear to have a natural ability to work effectively in managerial situations. Previously you may not have been in a position to observe these individuals in these types of roles, but they could become very valuable as you begin to look at overall succession planning for the firm.
Remember that I serve at your pleasure. If we are frank and candid with each other, the relationship will flourish and I will be able to give you 100 percent of my effort and support. Open lines of communication between us are of paramount importance, although I well know how busy you are-so rest assured that when I call or request an appointment, it will be because I believe the issue to resolve is really significant. Other than the emergencies, it is important that we meet regularly to review the routine and mundane, the things that make the place run on a day-to-day basis. I suggest we meet once a week at a set time just to touch bases. These meetings may last only five or ten minutes if things are running smoothly, but they will allow me to keep you informed as well as let you share with me any issues in which I may be helpful.
I have been privileged to observe the interaction and brainstorming that has made this firm what it is and to form opinions as to what it can become. As your senior administrative executive with broad day-to-day managerial responsibility in supporting and implementing your vision, I look forward to working with you to achieve those objectives and the firm's full potential.
D. James Lantonio is Past Executive Director of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy and of Sidley & Austin. He is now Administrator of DJL Associates, a management consulting firm, and is also a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. .