Addressing Structural Complexities

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By Gerry Riskin | Jan 20, 2007

by David H. Maister and Patrick J. McKenna

Large law firms today are structurally complex organizations with management and partners overburdened by time-consuming and often conflicting roles. We frequently hear comments like this from members of management:

We are divided into departments and discipline-based practice groups. We also have industry groups, and a growing number of individual client teams aimed at coordinating the many services we provide to our best clients. All of these departments, practice groups, industry groups and client teams are organized across geographic locations. It’s not at all clear what should each of these groupings be responsible for, and how their activities should be coordinated and evaluated.

Then, individual partners will weigh in:

As a trial lawyer I’m first and foremost a member of the Litigation Department. Because most of my litigation experience is with employment matters, I am a member of the Labor and Employment Practice Group. And as I have a good amount of my work with WalMart and McDonalds I am active on those two Client Teams, and also on the firm’s Retail Industry team.

And finally, from the Managing Partner:

If you are a key player in this firm, you can spend an inordinate amount of time in meetings. I participate in no less than 10 meetings a month myself. There has got to be a better way to organize our firm for effective operations!

There is a better way, but the way firms organize and manage has not kept up with their increasing complexity as businesses. Eventually – we think sooner rather than later – this will significantly impede their continuing success.

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