Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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Post # 649 – Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Report from Managing Partner Magazine

I’m delighted to have contributed a chapter to a new report entitled: Practice Group Leadership for Lawyers.

In an environment where innovation, value-added services, and AFAs are now the ‘new normal’, the effective management of practice groups is fundamental to a law firm’s success.  Practice Group Leaders are ultimately responsible for the growth and profitability of their practice area – but they are often weighed down with administrative tasks, and pressured to deliver as many billable hours as possible.  Even worse, PGLs are often not given the management training they need to deliver the goals and expectations put upon them by senior management.

This new publication also includes other contributions from: Paul Lippe, CEO, Legal OnRamp; Perry A. Napolitano, Chair Financial Industry group, Reed Smith; Tea Hoffmann, Chief Strategy Officer, Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein; Eric Seeger, COO, Barley Snyder and many others.

Practice Group Leadership for Lawyers covers topics including:

- Facilitating effective practice group meetings
- The evolution of effective practice group leadership
- Leadership development and recognizing future leaders
- Leading large international teams
- Addressing practice group under-performance
- Managing practice group staffing/recruiting
- Leadership Accountable
- Professional development and mentoring
- Collaboration between business development teams and practice groups
- Mentoring and people management
- Management activities versus billable hour work

For more information:  Executive Summary and Contents

Post #648 – Tuesday, February 12, 2013

World’s Fastest-Growing Economies in 2013

Forget the BRICs.  If it’s emerging markets with explosive potential you’re looking for, here are some serious considerations:

Mongolia - You have a tiny economy of just under 3 million people.  And they are sitting on enormous reserves of natural resources.  The top 10 deposits alone are worth an estimated $3 trillion.  It’s a decade-long story.  A good analogy is Kazakhstan, which is culturally similar — an old Soviet-style economy that opened up and created an enormous boom, thanks to resources.  The stock exchange went up 2,400% in six years from 2002; apartment prices rose 800%-plus and land prices in Almaty rose 8,000%.”

Myanmar (or if you prefer, Burma) - Another great story.  Fifty years of isolation and dictatorial rule and it is finally starting to thaw.  There is no reason why Myanmar can’t approach the development of its neighbors such as Thailand, given time, investment and a commitment to freer markets.  Expect it to be one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia.

United Arab Emirates - The economy went through a giant bust, but its place as the money center for the Middle East is secure, thanks to low taxes, privacy protection and location.  It has the region’s biggest marine port and airport and is home to the highest number of foreign businesses.  Best of all, the market is cheap after an epic bubble, but the underlying economy is still growing rapidly.”

Post #647 – Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Among LinkedIn’s Top 5%

Today I received this nice note: "Congratulations.  You have one of the top 5% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012.  LinkedIn now has 200 million members.  Thanks for playing a unique part in our community."

Very nice!  Thanks.

Post #646 – Monday, February 4, 2013

Leadership Reflections

Having completed an intense session this past week with a group of eager practice group leaders in San Francisco, here are some guidelines to reflect upon that emanated from our various workshop discussions:

• Create goals that are both realistic and unrealistic; commit your goals to writing and ensure that they are measurable, and then celebrate the achievement of each goal.

• Be genuinely interested in the needs of others and be interested in the growth of others even more so than the others are at times.

• Know that all endeavors will not be easy and will not happen the way you would have planned or wished. Inspire persistence even after the first, second, and third rejection of an attempt.

• Infuse a need to grow by teaching, rather than giving the answers.

• Maintain an awareness of just how much your body communicates and remember that your body continues talking long after your lips stop moving.

• Fuss over others’ events, achievements, families, and friends.

• Avoid assuming that your communication or personality style is the one everyone else has and learn to modify your communication style to the style of others. Adhere to the principle that “communication is not what was said, but what is received.”

• Give yourself permission to leave things undone and let go of needing to be perfect, and of needing everyone else to be perfect.

• Become clear and comfortable with the fact that leadership does not mean “being the most popular one on the playground.”

• Believe that people do what they get paid attention for, and be spontaneous, as well as scheduled in your recognition efforts; but avoid giving a public person, private recognition as they will see little or no value in it.

• Remember that money does not motivate for the long term and becomes expected.

• Address only areas of behavior and performance when being critical; and avoid engaging emotions until all angles have been examined. Maintain clarity on the fact that attitudes are not taught or changed without the owner’s consent.

Exhibit leadership traits as part of who you are, not what your particular title is!

Post #645– Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Join Me at The Practice Group Leaders Workshop

Join me in San Francisco next week, on January 30, for an intensive one-day workshop.  There are only a few days left to register and only a few seats remaining.

Whether you are the leader of a practice group or industry team, whether this is your first experience in leading a group or the custodian of an especially challenging group of mavericks, you are among the most essential players in achieving your firm’s long-term profitability and success . . . But this job is not an easy one!

It is your challenge to:

• Create a strong cohesive group out of a collection of bright, intelligent, autonomous individuals

• Identify how, as a practice leader, you add value and what specifically is it, that you can do, that is likely to affect the success of the group you lead

• Positively impact and enhance client satisfaction – turning client needs into growth opportunities

• Find a way to develop a strategic direction in an intensively competitive marketplace and have your colleagues  actually want to work together

• Lead effective meetings that result in some action plans being formulated and your colleagues taking responsibility for actually doing something

Click here for the complete agenda and to register.  I received these sample comments from a couple of practice group leaders that attended my last workshop session in Chicago:

“I enjoyed the practical tips. Patrick really understands law firm cultures and was responsive to specific questions and situations.”  Kerrin Slatery – McDERMOTT WILL & EMERY 

“This was extraordinarily helpful.  Much more helpful than a similar event I went to at the Harvard Business School.  It has given me some terrific insights that I intend to implement immediately.”   Scott Turner – NIXON PEABODY

Post #644 – Thursday, January 10, 2013

More On Malignant Leaders

My January article in American Lawyer Magazine, entitled Malignant Leadership, stimulated a good number of emails from readers wanting to pose questions and explore this subject in more depth – which makes one wonder whether they are observing certain behaviors within their own firms that they find troubling.  In any event, here are some of the questions, followed by my response.

To read the complete post - click here

Friday, January 11 - This was sent by a Partner (from an AmLaw 50 firm) who would prefer to remain anonymous:

Mr. McKenna’s article is excellent. However, the article appears to be premised upon at least two “aspirational” assumptions: (a) the managing partner and his/her governing board are open to such procedures; and, (b) the partners at large have the courage not only to advocate for those procedures, but to insist that they be followed.

Unfortunately, my own experience, as well as that of many others I know in large law firms, suggests that rarely do either of these assumptions prove to be true.  More often, it is the large rain-makers, rather than those most qualified (and most likely to be receptive to instituting such procedures), who are placed in positions of firm leadership.  Those individuals then typically seek to consolidate their power by surrounding themselves with like-minded persons (i.e., individuals who are willing to place their own interests above those of their partners and the firm as a whole), and/or persons they can control.  Partnership agreements may be modified to accomplish this, or such agreements may be ignored altogether.  More importantly, those who could do something about the situation – the partners themselves – sit idly by out of fear for their own positions, having watched those brave enough to take a stand being sliced to bits and then unceremoniously hurled out the saloon’s plate glass window onto the dirt street.  Indeed, the partners (myself included at my former firm) who sit by and do nothing are probably the most to blame for this situation – they get what they deserve (or some other applicable cliché).

However, there’s plenty of blame to go around.  Indeed, the bankruptcy courts and those charged with the responsibility of cleaning up the messes left after these malignant leaders drive their firms into the ground, fall just slightly below the rank and file partnership in terms of blame (in my opinion).  Until the bankruptcy courts and the persons charged with administering the bankruptcy process are willing to actually hold these malignant leaders accountable for their acts – in ways that leave no doubt that the legal profession and society will no longer tolerate such conduct – rather than do that which is expedient, there is absolutely no incentive for the malignant leaders to do otherwise.  It is ironic that if creditors in these law firm failures could see beyond the end of their respective noses (i.e., the long-term), they would realize that their future interests would be better served by taking a stand to deter this conduct now, thereby reducing the risk that they and others will find themselves in this situation again (and again, and again).  It seems to me that financial institutions who regularly loan money to law firms and individual partners would be particularly incentivized to do this. Silly me.

Please excuse my broken record regarding this issue of holding malignant leaders accountable in bankruptcy proceedings; however, as I believe this point is key.  In fact, it is one of the few areas where behavioral change can actually be effected (as opposed to waiting for the rank and file partners to stand up and say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”) in the relatively near term.?

The unchecked malignant partner problem would seem to fall squarely within first part of Lord Acton’s oft quote adage, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  I’m less sure of the applicability of the second half of the adage – i.e., “Great men are almost always bad men.”  That is to say, I find it difficult to characterize most of these malignant leaders, both those whose firms have failed and others still in power, as “great men.”  “Bad men,” yes; “great men”, no.  Thanks for letting me vent.

Post #643 – Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Malignant Leadership

My latest article appears today in the January issue of American Lawyer magazine.

It wasn’t until a pair of more recent failures, of Howrey and Dewey & LeBoeuf, that we’ve seen the industry begin to hold a firm’s own leadership accountable for its failure.

Too often, boards and/or executive committees facilitate firm failures by denying, overlooking, or “working around” crucial issues.  In other words, firms fail when good people do nothing!  There is an absence of checks and balances.  Power is centralized, and those responsible for monitoring have either been silenced or choose to be mute.  So when the board is benign . . . the leadership can become malignant.

It can take some time to realize that a firm leader is on a path to disaster.  This is particularly the case when the leader has had a stellar career.  Fortunately, there are firm-governance steps that can be taken to curb a malignant leader.  While this list is not exhaustive, it does present plenty of options for consideration.

To read the complete article – click here.

Post #642 – Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is Your Firm Facing A Leadership Transition?

Few NEW firm leaders are as prepared as we, or they might wish.  As one expressed it:

"New firm leaders mistakenly believe that because they have served as a practice group manager, an office head or on the firm's executive committee they have the necessary background for taking on the role of leading the entire firm . . . Not even close!"

The good news is that there is an orientation program for new leaders that can make a meaningful difference and over 50 firm chairs and managing partners have already experienced and attest to the difference it can make.

"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 learned a lot from it."  Hugh Verrier, Chairman - White & Case

If you are are (or know of a firm) facing a firm leadership transition or even having a new office managing partner taking the reins of one of the larger offices, please have a look at:   The next program is scheduled for February 7th at the University of Chicago and we are now accepting registrations.  Have a look at the day’s agenda, the faculty, the testimonials, the extensive course materials, the follow-up support and your total satisfaction guarantee.

Post #641 - Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year Greeting

"Our year end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going forward with all of the wisdom that experience can instill in us."

Post #640 – Monday, December 17, 2012

2012 In Review

I’m often asked about my consulting practice, what kinds of assignments I get called in on, for what sized firms; what I’m currently researching and writing about, and just generally how I spend my professional time.  I looked back over my various activities during this past year.  With some of these items (like clients served) activity is not a sufficient measure; results and the client’s satisfaction are really what counts (and to that end, you can find numerous client testimonials and commentary throughout this web site).  But for purposes of looking at where one’s time is invested, here is what my year looked like:


• Geographic Locations:
82% U.S. Based
  9% Canadian
  9% Internationa

• Nature of Assignments:
46% developing / implementing strategic plans
45% governance and leadership issues
  9% client relations and marketing projects

• Firm Size Range:
19% firms of over 500 attorneys
27% firms of 300 to 500 attorneys
54% firms of 100 to 300 attorneys


• Participated in presenting at 3 Webinars
The Future of Legal Services (January)
Selecting Your Next Firm Leader  (July)
The Firm Leader – COO Team: A Sensitive Balancing Act  (November)

• Participated in 6 Workshops & MasterClasses
Conference Chair & Presenter – Overcoming Lawyers’ Resistance To Change Conference (April)
Speaker – Legal Management Forum (May)
Facilitator – Practice Group Leaders Workshop (January, June & August)
Co-facilitator – First 100 Days Masterclass (August)


• Authored or Contributed to 17 Articles in Publications including:
American Lawyer Magazine
Legal Management Magazine
Canadian Lawyer Magazine
Of Counsel – Legal Practice and Management Report
SLAW – Cooperative Legal Weblawg
Leadership Foundation For Higher Education [UK]
Professional Marketing Forum’s PM Magazine [UK]

• Initiated Research Project covering:
The world of the firm leader – activity, interests, succession planning and next career moves.

• Two new issues (Spring & Fall) of my International Review 24-page glossy magazine were produced and distributed to 2000 firm leaders.

• Contributed Articles and Materials to 2 New Books:
- Professional Service Firm Competitiveness: Beyond Strategy with Robert Sawhney (an e-Book published in Hong Kong)
- A Field Guide For Mobile Lawyers (e-Book,


• Participated on Dr. Jim Hassett’s legal project management advisory board.

• DOUBLED the size of my Linkedin site – Law Firm Leaders – to more than 190 members.  Law Firm Leaders is the ONLY social networking site exclusively for the chairs and managing partners of firms of over 100 lawyers in size - with 62% representing leaders from firms of 100 to 300 lawyers; 16% from firms of 300 to 500 lawyers and another 19% coming from firms of over 500 attorneys.

• Received numerous “unsolicited” LinkedIn Endorsements for my strategic planning expertise from firm leaders and senior professionals from major firms including:
Baker & McKenzie
Fasken Martineau
Linklaters (Europe)
NautaDutilh (Europe)
Nelson Mullins
Norton Rose
Skadden Arps


In spite of the challenges we face in the world, I am extremely thankful for the privilege of doing what I do.  I might call this brief snapshot my personal Annual Report.
To everyone: I want to say thank you for allowing me to serve and spend time with you; for your confidence and your commitment.
To my valued clients: I look forward to being of service to you again in the future.
To my colleagues and friends: thanks for being a gift in my life.
I wish you and your families the Very Best for 2013.

A Christmas Poem
I have a list of folks I know, all noted in a book; and every year at Christmas time, I go and take a look.
That is when I realize, that these names are but a small part, not of the book they’re written in, but of my grateful heart.
Every name stands for someone, whose path touched mine and then, left a special imprint and memory, that I yearn to touch again.
While it sounds fantastic for me, to even admit such a claim, I really feel I am truly blessed, by each remembered name.
And every year when Christmas comes, I realize anew, the greatest gift that life can give is meeting folks like you.
So may the spirit of Christmas, that forever and ever endures, leave its many blessings, in the hearts of you and yours.

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Patrick J. McKenna Ashridge House 11226 - 60 Street Edmonton, Canada T5W 3Y8
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