I had the opportunity to attend the Managing Partner Forum in Atlanta Georgia on Thursday May 8, 2014. This event is the one event that I know of, held each year, where law firm managing and executive committee partners from all over the country come together and primarily learn from each other, and from experts, about leading and managing law firms. The day starts with a keynote speaker, followed by a panel of experts who respond to real time electronic voting by attendees (who are responding to questions on issues of firm management, leadership and finance such as “What is your Firm’s revenue per lawyer compared to a year ago?” and “Do you think law firms should have a firm-wide strategic plan?”) . The remaining 3/4ths of the day is broken into segments referred to as MPIE’s (“Managing Partner Idea Exchanges”) – 20 to 25 managing members of firms sit around a table and discuss topics of interest and importance in management and leadership of law firms, facilitated by two or three law firm leadership experts. Kudos to my friend, and founder of Managing Partner Forum, John Remsen, for coming up with such a great learning experience for law firm leaders, and sustaining it over so many years.
Given the high value of content during this one day of programming, I decided that this blog post should give you a tidbit of what I learned:
1. Keynote speaker Tim Corcoran, President of the Legal Marketing Association began the day by discussing 5 obstacles to law firm success, indicating that the greatest obstacle is our own reluctance to embrace proven business principles. He stated his belief that the reason for this is that lawyers continue to see the law as solely a profession, and not a business.
Tim discussed 5 more specific obstacles to law firm success. A comprehensive review of his whole keynote is beyond the scope of this blog post, but here is a short list:
a. Governance is an obstacle, where law firms allow all lawyers to be involved in management. Leaders need to be allowed to lead!
b. Law firms do not understand clients and their needs. Lawyers need to deliver what client’s want, at what they are willing to pay.
c. Law firm pricing needs to be rethought. Discounting without rhyme or reason is a problem. If you discount all the time, you send the signal that either you do not value your own work, or you know your client does not value your work.
d. Compensation plans continue to be a huge obstacle. Most encourage turf building, as opposed to collaboration.
e. The typical formula for deriving profit simply encourages more time keepers and actually less profit.
Tim did not leave us hanging with just the bad news, but had a numerous suggestions as well – here are a few:
a. Adopt new operating models to law firm structure – there are other ways to succeed than what we currently use. We need to look at what works in other businesses and professions and innovate.
b. Make client satisfaction your primary focus – make sure that all clients are “Firm” clients
c. Compensate for retention and long term profit – quit encouraging folks in the firm to focus merely on their own short term personal gain
2. Firms need to do be more strategic in their hiring practices. Cultural compatibility needs to be a priority, including: 1) structured hiring process and 2) psychological testing /personality testing. It makes sense that each party, employer and new hire, should be interested in assuring that they are a good match for each other.
3. Succession planning, in all areas of law firm future planning is of utmost importance. As a leader your job is to reduce uncertainty, and succession planning is all about reducing uncertainty of the future.
4. The key to successfully adopting alternative fee arrangements in a law firm is client trust – including a belief by the client that the relationship is of utmost importance to the lawyer.
5. Dr. Larry Richard, another expert helping in facilitation of the conference, pointed out that we should change the name of the position of a leader of a law firm to “Leading Partner” instead of “Managing Partner”. Leaders need to delegate management tasks to managers instead of giving in to the temptation to micromanage. This is difficult because lawyer skill sets are more conducive to management than leadership.
For anyone in law firm leadership, I recommend that you make time for this annual event.