Edge International

Successful Transitions: The New Managing Partner’s First Days

Patrick J. McKenna

Can anything really prepare you for those initial days in your new role as managing partner? Just when you feel that you have reached the peak of your career by building a successful practice, you may realize that you still have some things to learn. You also may face some real challenges settling into your new role.

How can a new firm leader make the most of this important transition period and avoid the potential pitfalls that can affect their ability to be successful over the long term? To find out, we interviewed a collection of new or soon to become managing partners of firms from across the country.

We talked to them about the importance of those first days, their priorities and challenges, and the advice they would give to someone taking over just such responsibilities. We chose firm leaders from a variety of firm sizes but were surprised to learn that in each and every case these leaders were partners in their firms for a minimum of 17 years and had served in some prior management capacity (practice group leader, office managing partner, executive committee member) for at least 5 years.

Addressing Structural Complexities

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.

Compelling Testimonials

Patrick J. McKenna

It’s hard to deny: clients today are particularly skeptical. So, one of the most difficult challenges that each of us as professionals face, is coming up with a convincing response to one critical question: “As a prospective client, tell me please, why should I choose you (your firm or your practice group); what makes you distinctive and what added-value do you bring to my business matters . . . that I cannot get anywhere else?”

Now, you might be able to answer that question with a bold assertion,and making a bold claim may be important to get your audience’s attention. However, supporting that claim is even more critical if you want to convert attention into action. To support any assertion,proof speaks the loudest.So,when you say something about yourself, it’s bragging.When other people say it about you,it’s providing proof.That is the essence of any testimonial. One of the ways to prove that you have something meaningful to offer and evidence that you are better than your competition is to produce a few forceful and persuasive testimonials.

A testimonial is usually a written communication from a client that talks about what is special about you and your firm. Preferably a testimonial should describe the work undertaken, highlighting the success achieved, and include a comment that the client is happy to recommend you. The power of a testimonial or of someone endorsing your service can be the key that unlocks the doors of the subconscious mind. It is tangible evidence that allows you to showcase the specific ways you are meaningfully differentiated from competitors.

Protecting Your Crown Jewels

Michael J. Anderson and Patrick J. McKenna

Reading about the carnage that occurred earlier this year (see: This Might Hurt a Bit, Corporate Counsel, December 2005) as Pfizer Inc. reduced its list of 103 outside product liability counsel to about 20 firms reminded us of an incident that occurred some months back. In the process of providing strategic counsel to the Planning Committee of a national firm with over a dozen offices, we found ourselves in a discussion on how providing exceptional client service was a meaningful way of differentiating any law firm. Curiously, it was not too difficult to observe more than a few eyes roll.

Imagine this scenario. You are in a room with twelve of what one might label power partners, as each of these individuals controls a book of business that is easily in excess of $6 million. The body language is screaming out to please not engage us all in one more protracted discussion on the merits of providing good client service, as we’ve heard it all, too many times already. Meanwhile, the actual discussion is quietly attempting to console all involved that the firm is already doing everything possible to ensure that clients get the best service of any law firm, anywhere.

Now, I don’t know where the motivation came from, but as we were listening to this unfold, we were quickly scrambling to construct a number of quick questions to test a hypothesis.

We said to the group (and dare you to try this at home, with your own partners, at your very next meeting), “Humor us for a moment please. Think about a client that you serve that is among your most prestigious; the client that gives you a degree of notoriety within the firm and then, obviously because of their importance to you and to the firm, a client who you likely have the very best relationship with. We’re going to pose a series of questions, and on a piece of paper which you may keep secret, please give yourself one point for each of the questions that you can answer in the affirmative. Here are your questions:”

What Keeps Managing Partners Awake at Night?

Patrick J. McKenna