Leading an AmLaw 100 firm is a demanding but rewarding full-time job—a role Keith Vaughan has tackled since 2002, when Womble Carlyle’s management committee elected him to the position of Chair and Managing Member. He leads 530 lawyers in 11 offices along the corridor from Atlanta, Georgia, to Wilmington, Delaware.
Keith W. Vaughan
Chair, Firm Management Committee, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC
What’s your management style?
I put the emphasis on leading, not managing, with a focus on reinforcing and reenergizing collective commitment to the firm’s core values, culture and vision. I reject micro-management in favor of generally empowering other firm leaders in implementing their respective parts of the firm’s strategic plan and accomplishing their day-to-day responsibilities. As part of that, I strive to be accessible, with meetings in every office almost every month and an established “open door” policy.
What’s your management philosophy?
The glue that holds successful firms together is the collective commitment to core values, culture and vision. The managing partner’s most important job is leading all efforts to establish, maintain and enhance that commitment. At the same time, you cannot be distracted by the myriad daily details, nor can you be consumed by criticisms over relatively insignificant aspects of important policy decisions. Doing so results in losing time that’s needed to focus on the big picture and it leads to confusion among the partners about what’s most important.
What skill or attribute have you found most critical to being an effective managing partner?
The ability to communicate effectively in a variety of ways—including via e-mails, memos, one-on-one meetings and presentations to large groups (in person or via videoconferences). A managing partner’s chief responsibility is leading a team of lawyers and staff in the pursuit of common goals. The values and vision that frame those goals are developed over time by many individuals across the firm, but their basic articulation is the managing partner’s responsibility and frequent repetition is critical. The MP must be able to communicate core values, vision and goals clearly, consistently and passionately in all contexts.
What’s the first thing a new managing partner should do?
There are actually two clear priorities. First, you must establish strong relationships with the partners in the firm and a strong sense of trust and accessibility with other firm attorneys and staff. Second, you must clearly articulate your vision for the firm and a sense of how that vision can be achieved. In so doing, you establish a context for the daily decisions that you will be making, as well as those that will be made by other firm leaders in their respective areas.
W hat’s the biggest challenge facing law firms in the next 10 years?
The world in which law firms operate is changing dramatically and almost daily. The old ways of practicing and managing are only marginally relevant today and will be even less so over the next 10 years. What will continue to be important are the basic values and standards of professionalism that have always been the hallmark of the legal profession. Our key challenge will be applying these values and standards in entirely different business models, models that are more appropriate to the new world and a new generation of lawyers.
What’s the most important advice you have for a new managing partner?
Stay focused on what is most important! The art of being a successful MP resides in the ability to remain focused on the big picture while being open and accessible to all who have ideas and concerns that might not relate directly to the big picture.
What’s the best thing about being managing partner?
The opportunity to lead a group of people about whom you care a great deal in the pursuit of common goals and an exciting future.