“You didn't check the by-laws!” exclaims Andy in exasperation to a junior associate at an AmLaw 100 firm. Andy, a capital markets partner, has just been pulled out of a meeting on a new deal to fix a corporate authority problem on another deal that is supposed to close tomorrow. The problem, which was missed by Andy's team, has been belatedly raised by underwriters' counsel at the pre-closing for a $200 million SEC-registered bond issue by Andy's corporate client. The company's by-laws contain an unusual provision, inserted years ago by its recently retired founder, requiring a super-majority board vote for any borrowing exceeding $20 million. The company had not borrowed in many years. As it turns out, the telephonic meeting to authorize the bond issue was attended by only a bare majority of the board.
How a practice management technique called knowledge strategy can help law firm leaders achieve strategic goals – ideas from a former AmLaw 20 senior partner.
On the advice of a consultant, Keith has been pushing for more proactive practice group management: asking each group to establish a strategy and external identity, specific revenue and realization rate goals (with profitability goals to be imposed in a couple years) and plans for client relationship management, business development, talent management (for partners and associates) and internal practice efficiency improvement. The primary burden falls on the practice group chairs. While many have shown good management skills in moving their plans forward, others have made little or no progress. Generally this latter group are in their positions because of their superior lawyering and new business skills, not their management skills. Replacing them as chairs is not an option, however. Keith decides to apply the personality strategies to the chair of an important practice group.
AmLaw 20 firm Cleary Gottlieb invested $2.5 million to send 116 first-year associates to a “mini-MBA” training program for two weeks last month, according to a recent press report.* The firm plans to send additional new associates through the program as they arrive later this year. The goal, as reported, is to advance the new lawyers' understanding of the business and financial concepts inherent in work for the firm's clients. Aside from favorable press coverage, what is the internal calculus that would lead a firm to make such a significant investment?
If Keith could look ahead two years, this is what he'd see as he reflects on his efforts to upgrade the commercial real estate group's practice. Overall, he is extremely satisfied. The acceptance of new lateral partners has been excellent and the effort to obtain more premium work has been a resounding success. The group's reputation among commercial real estate clients has correspondingly improved. The uptraining of existing partners allowed the group to take on premium work brought in by the new lateral partners and other successful business-getters at a much faster rate than if the work were handled by only the laterals and a few star partners.
Having addressed partner buy-in, Larry turns his attention to gaining associate support. The most important aspects of the associate training are attendance and assimilation of the material. The mid-level and senior associates are the main audience, yet they are subject to the greatest pressures to put client work first. Accountability for training attendance and participation, and support from the partners, are the key ways to address attendance. Larry's key steps are ...
Keith had previously convinced Jeff, the head of the commercial real estate practice group, that Jeff was not the right person to run the initiative. The other candidates are Larry, the senior partner and mentor in the commercial real estate group, and Bob, the rising star partner expected by many to succeed Jeff some day as head of the group. Keith has decided that Larry is the right person to lead the effort. Larry won't feel threatened by the arrival of new lateral partners, as the younger Bob might. Larry is also naturally more of an organizer and teacher, making him a better match for the required tasks.