YourABA December 2012 Masthead

7 strategies to succeed as a
managing partner

The title “managing partner” falls short of the mark in describing the work of a law firm leader, according to John Remsen Jr., president and CEO of the Managing Partner Forum, a resource for managing partners and law firm leaders. He says CEO is a more accurate term, as a managing partner is so much more than just a caretaker with oversight responsibility.

Practice group leaders need to be chosen based on their ability
to lead and commitment to it.

In the latest issue of Law Practice magazine, Remsen uses a recent survey to point out that today’s managing partner should also be inspirational and set the direction for a firm. A thoughtful plan from a managing partner can lead your firm forward into the 21st century. These steps from Remsen, who is also president of TheRemsenGroup, a consulting business for midsize law firms, are a start.

  1. Create job descriptions for yourself, your successor and other firm leaders. At a minimum, the description should delineate the amount of time you will devote to management responsibilities. A CEO’s primary responsibilities should include strategic planning, setting the future direction of the firm, cultivating relationships with major clients and identifying and grooming future firm leaders. The job description should define your pay structure.

  2. Redefine the role of practice group chair. Often, practice group chairs are appointed because they are the senior members of the group or the most effective rainmakers. They are not necessarily the most effective managers, the best mentors or the most committed to a firm’s success. Practice group leaders need to be chosen based on their ability to lead and commitment to it; they should be elevated to senior management and given full authority to manage their groups.

  3. Get to know the firm’s client base personally. Managing partners should reach out to client contacts and emphasize that the firm — not only the client’s chosen counsel — is pleased to be of service. Ask the client for feedback, learn the client’s business and industry, and strategize to help the client reach his or her goals.

  4. Identify and hire a strong chief operating officer. Delegate day-to-day administrative responsibilities to a strong, competent COO. This person should serve as a trusted “second hand” on the leadership team.

  5. Offer reforms to time
    and money matters.
    Senior management will be taking on a more extensive and defined role in firm operations. Adjust the time demands on the executive committee and practice group leaders to allow for sufficient nonbillable time for them to fulfill their management responsibilities. Likewise, adjust the compensation criteria to acknowledge the time they must devote to management matters and the results they achieve.
  6. Start (or re-energize) the strategic planning process. If you are the firm’s managing partner, presumably you have a vision of what you want the firm to become and what you want it to achieve. Sell this vision and get a supporting coalition among the equity partners. You don’t need to win them all over, but you will need an effective critical mass. Start small and keep initial goals simple. Suggest three or four one-year priority items.
  7. Maintain your firm’s investment in its future. Don’t forget to implement a first-rate training and associate development program. Or marketing and business development initiatives: These provide the growth that will finance the firm’s future. Technology upgrades are key to keep your firm ahead of the pack. And don’t ignore your successor. He or she will need the opportunity to learn the principles of law firm management.   

Of course, be aware that these steps may not always go so smoothly, and you may encounter challenges. Among them:

  • The authority of leadership is derived from the willingness of the firm’s partners to be managed.

  • Partners perceive themselves as being owners of the firm, having certain prerogatives and independence, not as employees to be managed.

  • Each firm has its own personality and culture, and the management techniques effective in one firm may not be successful in another.

To read the full article, click here. Law Practice magazine is published by the Law Practice Management Section.

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