October 23, 2012

Managing Partner Q&A

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December 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 8| Page 44

Managing Partner Special Issue

Managing Partner Q&A

When the management committee recommended him to take Finnegan's helm in 2006, Rich Racine was already deeply versed in the firm's workings-he had practiced there for almost 25 years and witnessed the firm's growth from 40 to 350 lawyers. He now applies that long-term knowledge to the full-time job of shepherding one of world's largest intellectual property practices, with nine offices stretching from the United States to Brussels, Taipei and Tokyo.

Richard B Racine
Managing Partner Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP

What's your management style?
It is integrally tied to the nature of our firm, which focuses on consensus building and what's best with respect to the firm's long-term interests. One of the key reasons for Finnegan's success over the years is our commitment to teamwork. The firm is extremely collegial and a very large percentage of our partnership is homegrown, with the majority having started at the firm as summer associates, student associates, law clerks or first-year associates. Our collegiality supports a team approach.

What's your management philosophy?
Managing a firm like this one requires an acceptance of the firm's unique culture and the good sense to know that the firm's core values need to be considered when making any significant decision on how to run the firm. We are not a top-down, executive-style firm. Rather, we take the time to work through issues, hear different views, and attempt to reach a consensus as often as possible. This pays the dividend of having the entire partnership stand behind major decisions.

What skill or attribute have you found most critical to being an effective managing partner?
There is no substitute for trust and confidence. A managing partner should do more listening than speaking and hear the various views on an issue before jumping to a conclusion. Then once a decision has been made, the managing partner must be able to openly and honestly communicate that decision and the rationale behind it. All might not agree with the decision, but the goal is to have the partnership respect the process and the result. To make that happen, the MP must have and keep the partnership's confidence and trust. If those are ever lost, they are difficult to regain and the MP probably should let someone else have the job. Finally, the MP needs to lead, not just manage, the firm. Leadership for me involves having a big-picture perspective that extends beyond the interests of the firm to also include the interests and needs of our clients, an understanding of the competition, and an eye on future trends in business, industry and the legal profession.

What's the first thing a new managing partner should do?
From the start, you should communicate to the partnership the firm's goals and focus and how you plan to support them. You should avoid the temptation of doing something right away just for the sake of doing something. Instead, you have to develop an understanding of what got the firm to where it is today along with an appreciation of the core values on which the firm is built. That forms the foundation on which the new MP can build so as to evolve the firm to stay on top in an increasingly competitive environment. I was fortunate in this regard because at Finnegan we have a transition year in which the outgoing and incoming managing partners overlap, which really allows the transition to be smooth and seamless.

What's the biggest challenge facing law firms in the next 10 years?
Keeping our profession collegial and rekindling the spirit that makes it challenging, rewarding and yet fun to be part of a law firm. Over the past several years, there has been too heavy of an emphasis on partner profits and making money and not enough focus on the core values of the profession, the importance of a solid and stable partnership, and the satisfaction you get from working with and for people you genuinely like. Our challenge is to avoid the practice of law becoming just another big business.

What's the most important advice you have for a new managing partner?
Remember that your partners picked you, not the individual down the hall, to lead this firm. So do not be afraid to lead, make decisions, communicate them, and move on. What's the best thing about being managing partner? I truly enjoy having the opportunity to shape the firm that I grew up in as a lawyer.


About the Author

Marcia Pennington Shannon is a principal in the Washington, DC, attorney management consulting firm Shannon & Manch, LLP. She is coauthor of Recruiting Lawyers: How to Hire the Best Talent (ABA, 2000).