Managing Partner Special Issue
Managing Partner Q&A
Selected by the then-managing partner to take Ball Janik’s reins in 2000, Brad Miller leads more than 60 attorneys and government affairs specialists, in offices located in Portland and Bend, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. On top of his managing partner responsibilities, he also maintains a full-time practice and chairs the firm’s real estate practice group.
Bradley S. Miller
Managing Partner, Ball Janik LLP
What’s your management style?
It boils down to decisiveness. As lawyers, we are expected to be decisive in how we provide advice to our clients. As a managing partner, I believe it is equally important to be decisive when trying to solve management challenges.
What’s your management philosophy?
A managing partner should strike a balance between spending time on strategic versus administrative matters, focusing more on the strategic matters facing the firm and building a good team to handle, to the extent possible, the internal administrative issues.
What skill or attribute have you found most critical to being an effective managing partner?
Promptly addressing matters that require management attention. Otherwise, small issues can become bigger, harder-to-resolve issues. Also critical is the ability to negotiate with different constituents to agree on a middle ground when differences of opinion exist. A closely related skill is the ability to listen and hear constituents’ concerns and then patiently explain to them why a particular outcome is the correct one.
What’s the first thing a new managing partner should do?
Apart from obtaining a clear understanding of the law firm business, meeting individually with one’s partners and creating personal connections is a critical first step. Much of an MP’s success in convincing partners to accept outcomes that may be different from their initial inclinations depends on having the partners’ trust and confidence.
What’s the biggest challenge facing law firms in the next 10 years?
The big challenges include increasing diversity in the partnership ranks, maintaining a high-quality practice so as to avoid the challenges created by increased “commoditization” of certain aspects of many practice areas, and maintaining the institutional nature of one’s firm so that the firm is able to survive the impacts of three looming shifts. Those are (1) the retirement of the first wave of baby boomers, (2) increased mobility of productive partners among law firms, and (3) increases in law firm mergers.
What’s the most important advice you have for a new managing partner?
Long-term success depends on figuring out how to be both decisive and patient. Although that’s potentially contradictory, it is essential to take the time needed to listen to what people say and to explain decisions in the level of detail necessary to make partners feel comfortable. It’s also important to focus on efforts to help attorneys grow their business and increase their revenues. Productive partners tend to be happy partners, and the financial and emotional returns gained by focusing on growing business are significantly greater than the financial savings generated from aggressive cost controls. This doesn’t mean that a firm shouldn’t make efforts to control costs. Rather, the MP should task administrative personnel to take the lead on that process.
What’s the best thing about being managing partner?
Helping other partners and lawyers be successful and mediating disagreements in such a way that all parties concerned are comfortable and, ideally, happy with the outcome.
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