December 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 8 | Web Only Archives
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A Leadership Guide for the Managing Partner

The Job Description

Managing partners spend a great deal of time defining and refining the job descriptions of their underlings—and this is important. Yet it is even more crucial to have a defined job description for the managing partner—and it is equally important that all partners agree on this job description. If there is no job description, the managing partner should create one and quickly obtain partnership approval thereof. The managing partner’s position is far too crucial to the firm’s well-being to allow for any confusion. Ideally, a managing partner’s job description is set forth in the firm’s partnership agreement, the constitution of the firm. Alternatively, there should be a partnership vote—reflected in the minutes of the firm—defining job responsibilities.

The managing partner’s job description should also be detailed in the firm’s employee handbook—if not in its entirety, at least in summary form—so that there is no confusion on the part of associates and staff as to the managing partner’s role. Although the nature and scope of the managing partner’s position will depend upon a firm’s size, traditions, and culture, the managing partner of any law firm should undertake the following responsibilities.

Developing and Implementing the Firm’s Strategic Plan

When developing a strategic or long-range plan, a firm’s managing partner must take the lead and obtain full partnership support for such a plan. The managing partner should also oversee the plan’s implementation and monitor the firm’s progress in achieving the goals of that plan. The managing partner should also work with individual partners and administrative directors to help them establish their own long-term goals in coordination with the firm’s goals. (The subjects of the strategic plan and goal-setting are discussed in Chapters 2 and 3.)

Managing the Firm

The managing partner serves as the firm’s chief executive officer. Although ultimate authority rests with the partner, the managing partner is responsible for the firm’s overall management. Such overall management encompasses the following responsibilities. The managing partner:

  • Coordinates the firm’s practice among its practice groups. The managing partner, in coordination with the chairs of practice groups, ensures that services are rendered in a professional, ethical, timely, and economic manner, and that the firm is providing the requisite support to the lawyers within each practice group. (This subject is addressed more comprehensively in Chapter 6.)
  • Oversees the firm’s committees. The managing partner oversees the work of the firm’s committees and coordinates the tasks to be performed and the timetable of the committees’ work with committee chairs. (See Chapter 9.)
  • Supervises the firm’s administrative directors. Essential to the proper functioning of a law firm are dedicated and talented administrative, financial, and human resource directors. The managing partner must meet regularly with these people to supervise and coordinate their work, and to be kept apprised of developments within the firm.
  • Meets with the associates and support staff of the firm. The managing partner meets regularly with the firm’s associates and support staff to review workplace developments—including additions to personnel and changes of policy—and to answer questions and address concerns. (The firm’s treatment of these important groups of human resources is discussed in Chapters 13 and 14.)
  • Promulgates and oversees compliance with firm policies and procedures. A firm’s culture is substantially defined by the rationality of its policies and procedures, and the fairness with which they are enforced. The managing partner is responsible for the promulgation and enforcement of firm policies and procedures. (Chapter 11 addresses this area more comprehensively.)
  • Monitors the firm’s financial performance. The managing partner is responsible for monitoring the firm’s financial performance, both on the revenue side, including oversight of time posted, bills rendered, and accounts receivable, and on the expense side, including budgetary compliance and approval of non-budgeted expenses. The managing partner is also responsible for ensuring the overall financial soundness of the firm, by addressing the firm’s capital and debt structure, malpractice coverage, retirement obligations, and other long-term obligations.
  • Ensures the firm’s compliance with ethical standards. The managing partner is fluent in the applicable ethical standards and arranges for the training of lawyers and staff to ensure compliance with these standards. In this context, Rules 5.1, 5.2, and 5.3 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct have special significance. Adopted in virtually all jurisdictions, these rules stipulate that partners are responsible for lawyers and non-lawyers acting under their supervision. Partners must also make efforts to guarantee that the firm establishes measures that ensure that subordinates act in conformity with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
  • Oversees the hiring and orientation of new personnel: The managing partner is responsible for overseeing the firm’s recruitment, interviewing, and hiring practices, and orientation of new personnel.
  • Oversees the evaluation and professional development of personnel. The managing partner is responsible for overseeing the training, mentoring, and review of all personnel, and the professional development and promotion of individual lawyers and staff members. The managing partner is also responsible for supervising the termination of personnel.
  • Monitors the infrastructure of the firm. The managing partner is responsible for the efficient use and effective operation of the firm’s infrastructure, which includes its space, library, facilities, and telecommunication and computer systems.
  • Oversees the firm’s marketing program. The managing partner is responsible for supervising the firm’s marketing program, especially the external aspects of the program, such as newsletters, client seminars, Web page listings, and firm brochures.
  • Establishes the firm’s calendar. The managing partner is responsible for the firm’s annual calendar and establishes dates and deadlines for annual budgets and associate reviews and coordinates various meetings for the partners, practice groups, and committees, as well as firm functions and events.
  • Ensures compliance with legal obligations: The managing partner ensures that the firm is in full compliance with applicable federal, state, and local legal requirements.

Governing the Firm

The managing partner is responsible for the governance of the firm, including the following:

  • Convening and chairing partnership meetings. The managing partner convenes partners on a regular basis and presents for partnership consideration those matters reserved to the partners under the firm’s partnership agreement.
  • Reporting to the partners. The managing partner regularly reports to the partners in a manner that keeps them fully apprised of the functioning of the firm.
  • Mediating and adjudicating disputes between partners. The managing partner mediates and, if necessary, adjudicates disputes that arise between and among partners.

Representing the Firm

The managing partner acts as the firm’s representative, or ensures that an appropriate firm representative is present at important community and bar events.

Obviously one person cannot possibly perform all of these tasks, especially if that person is also a practicing lawyer serving clients. To be successful, the managing partner must coordinate with individual partners, practice heads, committee chairs, and administrative directors to ensure that all responsibilities are properly performed.

One person is ultimately responsible for the proper performance of each of the above tasks, and this person is the managing partner.

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