Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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Post #743 – Thursday, October 8, 2015

Join Me at The Conference on Growth Strategies

What are the implications of a shift from unfettered growth to a market share battle?   Until recently, many law firms kept doing the same things, the same way, with the same people – as if immune to economic pressures (while expecting ever-increasing rates to be accepted by the firm’s clients).

After the financial reset of 2008/2009, a lot of legal work (that would otherwise have gone to outside counsel) started staying in-house, with clients intent on keeping it there. Clients are clearly doing more work in-house, while law firms compete for the same (or diminishing) outside spend.

In today's hyper-competitive legal market, the best way for law firms to grow their business is at another law firm’s expense (taking market share away from competing firms and practices).

Some firms are set on buying market share, acquiring firms with the practices (and talent) they need to drive their strategic growth plans. While other firms have begun marketing with a laser-like focus in to market segments where they have a differentiating strength.

Ark Group’s Client Growth Strategies for Legal Services will showcase a client-centric approach to winning & retaining business. Attendees will learn about law firm client service approaches, models and measures that industry leaders are employing to better serve their clients, enable stronger relationships, and provide a platform for differentiation and growth.

For my part I will be presenting on the topic of: Strategic Planning For Practice Growth
For More Information and to Register - Click Here

Post #742 – Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Fall 2015 Issue of International Review Is Now Available

INTERNATIONAL REVIEW is my 24-page glossy, printed magazine distributed to over 1600 law firm chairs and managing partners throughout North America.

We start with some prescriptive counsel on how your industry groups need to better Understand Industry Dynamics in order to be successful, and then continue with a reminder of how you need to Schedule Time For Strategic Thinking as it could arguably be the most important activity in your leadership role.

While I have never been a fan of “branding” and watched over the years as numerous law firms have wasted incredible monetary resources in various expensive advertising experiments, I am nevertheless going to stick my neck out and suggest that The Value In Developing A Leadership Brand is there for every firm leader to employ.

Pages 12 and 13 are intended to introduce you to my newest work, The Changing of The Guard: Selecting Your Next Firm Leader, and How New Managing Partners Can Avoid Being Blindsided is a related one-on-one interview with the Editor of Managing Partner Magazine.

How Effective Leaders Delegate has its origins in a survey that I send out to new managing partners, after their First 100 Days (see back cover) inquiring about their most unexpected challenges and the last piece, Why Law Firms Need Non-Executive Directors is included to provoke your thinking about a trend that has been paying dividends for UK and Australian law firms for a few years now.

As always, I sincerely hope that you find some practical ideas, tips and techniques here that you can put to use immediately.  Please send me your observations, critiques, comments and suggestions with respect to any of these articles. 

Click on the Cover to download your complimentary PDF copy of the magazine.

Post #741 – Tuesday, September 1, 2015

2020 Vision: The Future of Legal Services

I’m pleased to have contributed two separate chapters to this new 116-page Ark report designed to help law firm leaders assess the lay of the legal landscape, prepare for foreseeable change, and above all to position themselves so that they are ready to respond to the unseen challenges and opportunities ahead.

Wind back the clock 20 years or so to when law firms held all the cards.  At that time, clients paid an hourly rate with few complaints, allowing firms to work as they chose, and those clients were loyal. Lawyers specialized right out of law school, and were prepared to work round the clock for a shot at the brass ring of partnership. What is now known as the “traditional” law firm business model was then the only one, and that model made money. In the decade leading up to the economic downturn, revenues in the legal sector grew steadily every year. All that has changed.

Now, firms are operating in a “buyers” market, with non-traditional competitors and new technologies encroaching on what was once the sole province of traditional firms; endemic overcapacity threatens those firms’ profitability; and clients spread available work across a variety of providers – or keep it in house. Moreover, a new generation of “millennial” lawyers is now well established in the profession – and they have very different expectations about working styles, workplace culture, and job longevity.

For better or worse, the legal industry has changed radically over the past two decades – arguably more so than it had done in the previous century. What is more, the pace of change continues to accelerate as new technologies develop, and client businesses – already ahead of their law firms when it comes to embracing technology and streamlining processes – demand certain efficiencies as a prerequisite for sending work a law firm’s way. The speed of evolution is such that, looking just five years into the future, we can predict even more major changes for law firms.

In this fast-moving, competitive, increasingly varied environment, only the most agile firms – those able to respond rapidly to future trends – are likely to succeed. 2020 Vision: The Future of Legal Services brings together the advice of leading industry practitioners and consultants who scan the legal horizon for indicators of change, offer their predictions, and share experience and practical guidance to help law firm leaders prepare for what is coming up next.

For more information on this publication - click here

Post #740 – Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Lucrative Industry Segment

There are 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day -- and every day for the next 14 years.  Older people are heavier users of hospitals, as you'd expect.  But there's a certain subset that's growing faster than full-service hospitals: ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs).  These facilities focus on same-day surgical care.  So they'd do laparoscopic surgery on your knee, but not open-heart surgery.

ASCs are a $35 billion fast-growing industry.  The trend is toward more outpatient procedures at ASCs.  Twenty years ago, 30% of all surgeries were outpatient.  Today it's 70%.

A well-run business in this sector prints money.  For any procedure, there are three fees for the patient.  There is a fee paid to the physician, billed by physician.  There is an anesthesiology fee, billed by the anesthesia provider.  And there is a facility fee for use of the facility.  It's that last fee an ASC collects, paid by the patient's insurer.  And it's high-margin.  A foot operation can cost as little as $1,000, but the ASC collects as much as $20,000.  

To really understand what I’m talking about in this post, read my article: Understanding Industry Dynamics wherein I make the point amongst a number of others, that there is no such thing as a Health Care lawyer.

Post #739 – Friday, July 24, 2015

Some of My Most Recent Articles

I have written and published a number of articles recently, some of which may not appear on my website.  Should you have an interest in any of these titles and wish to obtain a copy of the article, please feel free to send me a note –

Firm Strategy: Understanding Industry Dynamics [Part One] - article
Bloomberg BigLaw Business ( - July 2015

When Is A Partner Not A Partner? - article contribution [Australia] - July 2015

Strategic Accountability - co-authored article
Of Counsel, The Legal Practice and Management Report - July 2015

Admitting You're Wrong - co-authored article
American Lawyer magazine - June 2015

Where Do You Spend Your Leadership Time? - Thought Leadership Column
Law Practice Management, Legal Executive Institute - June 2015

A Response to Harvard Study on Collaboration - article
Bloomberg BigLaw Business ( - June 2015

4 Ways You Can Become Your Client's Favorite Firm - interview contribution - June 2015

The Leadership Succession Process: Identifying, Developing, Electing - article
Of Counsel, The Legal Practice and Management Report - June 2015

Succession Strategies - a critique of my Changing Of The Guard book
Of Counsel, The Legal Practice and Management Report - June 2015

Mistakes To Avoid As A New Firm Leader - Thought Leadership Column
Law Practice Management, Legal Executive Institute - May 2015

Breaking Down Barriers to Collaboration - commentary
Harvard Business Review - May 2015

Patrick McKenna On How New Managing Partners Can Avoid Being Blindsided - Feature Interview
Managing Partner Magazine [UK] - May 2015

Why Law Firms Need Non-Executive Direcotrs - Thought Leadership Column
Law Firm Management, Legal Executive Institute - May 2015

A Key Performance Issue - article
Of Counsel, The Legal Practice and Management Report - May 2015

Going All In On Industry Group Model - interview contribution
Of Counsel, The Legal Practice and Management Report - May 2015

Post #738 – Friday, July 3, 2015

Is Your Firm Facing A Leadership Transition?

Do these sound like some of the questions that all new Firm Leaders are likely to be asking themselves:
• Am I really clear on the reasons why I accepted this position?
• How can I be sure that I have correctly understood what is expected of me?
• Which tasks should be a priority and which can be put on hold?
• Who am I going to meet with first and what am I going to say?
• Have I defined the challenges facing my firm and determined an approach to dealing with them?
• When can I begin to introduce change and what is my initial plan of action?
• How do I make sure that I have the support I need from the partnership?

If you are (or know of a firm that is) facing a firm leadership transition or even introducing a new office managing partner taking charge of a larger office, please have a look at

The next program is scheduled for Thursday, August 13, 2015, at Gleacher Center, the University of Chicago, and we are now accepting registrations. Have a look at the day's agenda, the faculty, the testimonials, and extensive course materials, the follow-up support and your total satisfaction guarantee.

Thus far, over 70 firm chairs and managing partners have experienced and can attest to the value and benefits of the program--including leaders from notable AmLaw 100 and AmLaw200 law firms. In fact, we received these gracious comments from a couple of those attending our First 100 Days session:

"I was struck by the synthesis of the issues you presented. It was amazingly clear and comprehensive, given the breadth of the topic and the short time available. I was delighted to attend the event and I learned a lot from it."
Hugh Verrier, Chairman - WHITE & CASE

"The First 100 Days Master Class was concise and insightful. I quickly learned the difference between being a practitioner and a Firm Leader.  I was thoroughly impressed with the scope of the topics discussed."
ONE YEAR LATER - "I continually refer to that one-day class as the best thing I did to prepare for my new role."
Vincent A. Cino, Chairman - JACKSON LEWIS

Few experiences can be as overwhelming as taking on the firm leadership role for the first time. We repeatedly hear about how everything changes in unexpected ways. It is not about shifting from being an office head or member of the executive committee to the next rung on some leadership ladder; it's a quantum leap into a new reality. Brand new Firm Leaders need all of the practical, impartial, and time-tested advice they can get. 

Post # 737 – Thursday, June 11, 2015

New Book Offers Practical, Insightful Advice on Succession Planning

I am indebted to Steve Taylor for his gracious review of my latest work.  Here is an excerpt:

Patrick J. McKenna’s latest book, The Changing of the Guard: Selecting Your Next Firm Leader, may be the most comprehensive text on law firm succession ever written, covering every priority from choosing a nominating committee to defining leadership criteria.

It’s worth highlighting some points that McKenna makes in his thorough and informative guidebook—and that’s really what it is: a succession bible.  He really covers all the bases, from selecting a nominating committee with the right composition and setting selection criteria for the next leader, to developing and implementing a transition and integration plan to usher out the former chair or managing partner gracefully and usher in the new one.  And, he offers guidance on all of the many steps in between.

The biggest value of The Changing of the Guard is the way it helps show how best to pass the leadership baton.  To use another metaphor, it serves as a beacon to navigating through the rocky waters of succession planning.

Excerpted from Critique written by: Stephen T. Taylor, Senior Editor
Of Counsel, The Legal Practice and Management Report  -  Vol.34 • No. 6 • June 2015

Post #736 – Monday, June 1, 2015

Why Do Leaders Find It Hard To Say I’m Sorry?

Even the smartest leaders often find it hard to swallow their pride and say the simple words, “I was wrong” when they have made a mistake.  Yet executives who cannot openly assume responsibility for flawed decisions can never correct these mistakes or successfully change direction, wrote Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  And the implications of poor judgment get worse the longer denial continues, she warned.

The simple sentence "I was wrong" is the hardest for leaders to utter and the most necessary for them to learn.  If a leader cannot admit being wrong in a timely fashion, he or she can never correct mistakes, change direction, and restore success.  The consequences get worse the longer denial prevails.

The arrogance of success is well-known.  Powerful people start to believe that they are above the rules, that what applies to ordinary people does not apply to them.  That's how officials get into trouble in the first place, using their power to suppress criticism.  They never have to say "I was wrong," because everyone conspires to hide mistakes.  The best leaders manage the risk that they could be wrong by surrounding themselves with people are smarter than they are, at least in some things.  They create conversations, weigh facts, listen to arguments, and then make better-informed and less self-serving decisions. 

Perhaps apology training will become a growth business.  Actually, I hope not.  But I do hope that smart leaders will be more alert to problems, and if mistakes are made, they can utter the three magic words and take corrective action.

For more on this subject you might find my co-authored article in the brand new June issue of American Lawyer Magazine of interest – Admitting You’re Wrong: Why you made that strategic mistake – and how to recover from it.

Post #735 – Friday, May 15, 2015

Structure Your Practice Groups For Performance

I had an interesting and lengthy telephone discussion the other day with some folks from a 500-attorney firm spread over a dozen offices.  They related to me how they have now changed out all of their practice group leaders to newer and younger candidates.  And they were telling me about all of the internal training that they have been conducting - from developing internal tutorials (on staffing and financial reports) to bringing in some expert on cultural competence (what ever that means?) to Professor Heidi Gardner to speak to them on collaboration (see her latest article in the March HBR and my Blog Rant #733).  They then reported that some of these activities, unfortunately, seem to have generated less than glowing feedback.  

When I inquired as to why they thought that was the reaction, they reported that it would seem that these new practice group leaders wanted some pragmatic guidance on what the job of being a practice leader was really all about, some basic leadership skills, some help in determining how to balance their producer/manager roles, and some “substantive take-aways” (rather than just theoretical lectures).  Can you imagine?  

Of course I asked some fundamental questions – questions like whether these new practice leaders had been given written job descriptions and whether they had any clarity around how much specific non-billable time they would be expected to devote to their new leadership roles.  And the resounding answer was . . . “No!”  

So much for the fresh start, or for their experiment in getting PGL 2.0 on track within this particular firm.  

But the real tragedy?  After the call, when I happened to check my files I noticed that my notes indicated an almost identical discussion, with a different cast of characters from this same firm, in November 2003 as they attempted to get serious about “launching a more effective practice group structure.”  Now that is sad.

For my part, I’m becoming obsessive about trying to help firms get this right.  So, if you are interested in learning more about how to effectively address this issue in your firm, come and join me at our Ark hosted Webinar on June 4 – Law Firm Practice Management 2.0: Identifying and Implementing the Structural Neccessities for Effective Practice Management.

Rant #734 – Monday, May 11, 2015

Why Law Firms Need Non-Executive Directors

Until recently and certainly before the failure of Howrey and then Dewey & LeBoeuf, the bankruptcy of a large law firm had been regarded as nearly inconceivable.  In examining what went off track and in my article, Malignant Leadership, I reported that: too often, boards and/or executive committees facilitate firm failures by denying, overlooking, or ‘working around’ crucial issues.

In that same piece I cited a number of governance steps that firms might consider.  One of the notable differences between the top U.K. law firms and top U.S. firms is that almost one-in-four (24%) of the U.K. firms now employ one or more Non-Executive Directors (NED) on their boards.  Even more interesting, in a study released late last year, those law firms with at least one NED have seen revenues grow by one-third more than those without.  In yet another research study, this one commissioned by BDO and published in April: Nearly one-third (33%) of the global firms had at least one NED on their board.

Law firm NEDs have often been drawn from a pool of retired law firm leaders, accountants and management consultants.  None of the U.S. firms surveyed had any independent advisers involved in their firms’ governance.  U.S. lawyers continue to be skeptical about the value an outside expert might bring.  Yet, the use of non-executive directors has grown significantly. Lovells was known to have appointed the first non-executive director back in the early 1990s and attested to the benefits of taking such a move.  In raising this topic with Fred Lautz, Managing Partner at 480-lawyer Quarles & Brady, he offered this observation:

We have assembled a few partners who we call investment partners. They are attorneys who were partners in the firm at one time, and then went on to become business executives. After retiring or otherwise completing their executive roles, some of them have been willing to commit some portion of their time, under contract, to assist us in business development. We ask them to leverage their significant business contacts and community and business profiles to help position us to be in front of developing legal needs which fit our strategic imperatives. I frequently confer with a number of these investment partners on matters of firm business, service delivery, client relationships and Firm growth. I find their experiences in the business side of things (and in some cases as purchasers of outside legal services), coupled with their knowledge not only of the business and operations of a professional partnership generally, but of ours in particular, provide terrific perspective and insight for me as I lead our Firm. So, while we have not formalized any advisory board of outside business folks, I can certainly affirm the value of tapping into people with this type of experience.

I believe an NED can provide any law firm with a number of benefits, such as:
    providing a dispassionate external view of the firm together with business experience and new concepts;
    making a contribution to the firm’s strategy and market performance;
    acting as a vital sounding board and an outside voice to challenge current thinking and practices;
    strengthening the firm’s management and providing an objective view;
    delivering a fresh perspective and opening up opportunities for how the firm might access new revenue streams; and
    objectively assessing the firm’s performance and making recommendations for improvement.

Key areas that NEDs might be consulted on include governance, complex partnership matters, areas of risk management, changing partner performance evaluation, financing policies, along with many of the marketing and strategic challenges that today’s firms are facing.  The ‘right’ NED can also be engaged in the role of leadership coach, helping the Managing Partner who may be an excellent attorney, but with limited leadership and management experience.

It is important that NED’s are focused on matters at the Executive Committee or Board level and should not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the firm.  An outside NED should have a more objective view of external factors affecting the business than the partners and should not be afraid to comment and contribute accordingly in the longer-term interests of the firm.

Lawyers recognize that it is good practice for their clients to involve external non-executive directors on their boards, yet law firms seldom adopt this practice themselves. It is often claimed that only partners really understand the business or enjoy the necessary respect, and that elected partners don’t have the necessary oversight function.  Yet non-executive directors are perfectly capable, in the corporate world, of commanding respect and of calling management to account on behalf of the shareholders.  They can also use their outside experience to advise, and to challenge the sacred cows which tend to develop in any inwardly-focused organization.  Thus they can help the board to see things from a different perspective, and to spot unforeseen risks and opportunities.

Perhaps it is time for law firms to adopt a similar strategy to what most of our corporate clients have been doing for decades.  Indeed, many partners believe that their own firms need to apply a few more of the proven rules of good governance that they themselves recommend to their clients.

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