Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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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.

Post #639 – Thursday, December 13, 2012

2013: Time To Review Your Strategy

As we slowly close off another year and look to the prospects of 2013, one of the things that I sense that firms everywhere are in need of is a new strategy for growth.  Firm leaders are recognizing, as they catch their breathe after months of flat demand, that the old strategies they have been pursuing are unlikely to take them where they need to go.  Indeed, conventional approaches to developing strategic plan in law firms – those lengthy protracted internal debates that lead to developing monumental documents detailing the firms direction over the coming five-years – seems to now belong to a bygone era.

So, what are leading firms doing today to advance setting their strategic direction?  Unsurprisingly, they are holding their current strategic plans in abeyance while they explore how they might need to adapt to trends that portend changes in their fundamental business models, while also figuring out how to navigate their way through this period of economic uncertainty.

Put slightly differently, the executive committees of more firms are beginning to engage in an Adaptive Strategy Review – scheduling a couple of days to discuss and explore what new trends, developments and issues (signals) will potentially impact their firm going forward and what actions they need to take NOW!   In one of my most recent review sessions our singular agenda topic was: “At the dawn of 2013, what will our legal profession look like, in three short years (2016), and what should we be starting to do now to get to the future first?”

The process for strategic planning has changed.  Your strategy needs to be constantly evolving.  While the eternal truths – about determining your target markets and how you reach them, what specific practices may be evolving that you need to be in, the value promise that leads clients to choose you, hard-to-copy advantages that help you differentiate your firm; and how your resources are aligned – endure; however, a more dynamic and adaptive approach is now needed.  Firm Leaders need to be more flexible, resilient and ready to make necessary adjustments and changes.

The approach to law firm strategy taught by business schools and practiced by most firms is relentlessly 'left brain' - it's focused almost exclusively on 'the numbers' - on data analysis and on formal detailed plans, with strategy sessions the exclusive preserve of a few senior partners.

Great strategies aren't the product of rational analysis alone.  They emerge when a committed team puts its 'whole mind' to work, approaching strategy making creatively and collaboratively - to stimulate 'strategic intuition' and insight, and build buy-in and belief amongst the teams that must make the strategy happen.  Great process isn't just about building the flexibility needed to change direction at the drop of a hat, it's about bringing in 'new voices' and different perspectives into the strategy process - encouraging those who are prepared to challenge the profession’s status quo. 

Reinventing the strategy process isn't a 'nice to do', it is a 'must do' - and only real improvement will feed directly through to your firm’s bottom line.

Post #638 – Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Don’t Send That Rate-Increase Notification

There is a great article in the new issue of Corporate Counsel magazine penned by Susan Hackett  (the voice of in-house counsel at ACC for 22 years) entitled: Ending the HolidayTradition of Outside Counsel Rate-Increase Letters.

Susan poses this insightful question to those firm leaders contemplating sending their clients notices of billable rate increases: are you feeling pretty good about the odds that your most valued assets—your clients and your top relationship partners—are going to find this an overall productive and happy set of conversations that will leave everyone feeling better about the firm?

She further cautions firm leaders to hold off sending automatic rate-increase notices to their clients and offers five logical reasons, reminding us:

• that clients have already finished approving their budgets for 2013 so any notice sent out now comes a bit late;

• that clients have ever more options to using “your” services – from hiring more in-house staff to the non-law firm service providers who are delivering services you used to provide;

• that law firms do not automatically have the right to increased profitability just for showing up and that associates often make more in base pay than many senior in-house lawyers;

• that if you are not the only provider of a very indispensable legal service, you may just find yourself being replaced; and

• there is the distinct possibility that any rate increase “letter” will do nothing but confuse and annoy those of your clients with the most matters currently handled by your firm.

So, if your gut tells you, that for any number of your valued clients, sending out some letter notifying them of your increased 2013 rates might just have them exploring other options – then you might want to seriously heed Susan’s advice.  At the very least, dispense with sending out written notices in favor of . . . investing serious time in some one-on-one discussion with each of your clients.

AND most importantly, read Susan’s sage advice for yourself, as I have only touched upon a few of the salient points she so aptly makes in her article.

Post #637 – Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Six Factors That Can Impede Firm Leader-COO Relationships

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in presenting at a Webinar entitled The Firm Leader-COO Team: A Sensitive Balancing Act in Shared Responsibility.  One of the questions that was asked by the registrants was this one:

What are the danger signs and which factors greatly impede the development of an effective Firm Leader-COO working relationship?

Here was my response.

One needs to keep in mind that the Firm Leader-COO team, in a sense, is two people who have been forced to work together – rather than having chosen the arrangement voluntarily.  That is not intended to be pejorative, but the reality is that a COO inevitably finds him or herself with a brand new boss while at the same time, some new Firm Leader realizes that they now have to work closely with an individual whom they may even know very well.  We shouldn’t lose sight of that.  So there are any number of factors that can make this “forced marriage” rather challenging, if they are not conscientiously addressed.

From my observations and in speaking with Managing Partners and COOs whom I have a great deal of regard for, at the top of my list would be:

To read the complete article – download the PDF.

The above represents my latest column for   Slaw identifies itself as “a cooperative weblog on all things legal.”  Slaw has been publishing for five years and gets 30,000 unique visitors and about 100,000 visits every month.  For the past two consecutive years it has been the winner of three different awards as the best legal blog.  I’m honored to have been asked to become a regular columnist and invite you to comment on my latest meandering.


COMMENT (via Twitter):

Susan Hackett @HackettInHouse

Damn, Patrick, you're good! @ConsultMcKenna posts a great piece @Slaw_dot_CA on firm Mgg Partners & Staff COOs:  

Post #636 – November 22, 2012

Mistakes To Avoid As New Firm Leader

In a recent McKinsey article entitled, Leading in the 21st Century, the authors state: “when we meet with the men and women who run the world’s largest organizations what we hear with increasing frequency is how different everything feels from just a decade ago.  Leaders tell us that they are operating in a bewildering new environment in which little is certain, the tempo is quicker and the dynamics are more complex.  They worry that it is impossible for CEOs to stay on top of all the things they need to know, to do their job.  Some admit they feel overwhelmed.”

In a similar vein what we’ve learned about the transition that new law firm leaders need to navigate their way through is that there are a number of mistakes that some make in their very earliest days.  Here are five that seem to be very common:

1.         Thinking this appointment is about you, when it’s all about them

As you begin your new role, it is quite seductive to take to heart all of the wonderful best wishes, congratulations and accolades.  You will only succeed when you recognize the truth – you may be the firm’s leader, but your partners don’t work for you.  You now work for them and they have just become your most important client.

2.         Hitting the ground running, before hitting the ground listening

You come to this position with lots of ideas about what you want to accomplish and the temptation will be there to hit the gas-peddle.  But slow down to go fast. Take time to get to know what your partners are thinking about the important issues of the day.  Remember always, that you can only move your firm to the outer limits of your partners’ appetites for change!

3.         Forgetting to inform people about how best to work with you

As you take charge you will be working with an established team with established work patterns and habits.  Important to them is to learn how you like to operate:

- How do you prefer to receive information – in person, by phone, in writing?

- Is your door open or do you prefer that people arrange appointments?

- Do you have any pet peeves that people should know about?

- How do you feel about being called at home?

            Help those who report to you, learn how to work with you.

4.         Confusing change with transition

Change is external, it happens to you; while transitions are internal, they happen inside of you.  Change starts at a beginning and will be remembered by the date you assumed office.  Transitions start with an ending – a process of letting go of the way things were.  Pay conscious attention to how you manage this transition – from finding ways to honor the past with a symbolic ritual or ceremony and thinking of ways to bring the best of the past into the future – to – communicating frequently about what is changing and what is not.

5.         Overlooking the power of small wins

One firm leader began her term with an initiative wherein numerous of the professionals and staff throughout the firm collaborated together in small task forces to identify the firm’s “sacred cows” – those things that were being done internally that made no sense, frustrated clients and impaired the delivery of good service.  She then set about having these same task forces kill the sacred cows by either proposing ways to effectively eliminate the past procedures, change behaviors and adopt new approaches.  Don’t ignore the power of accomplishing a small win.  Listen, look around and find some small win that you can bring about.

Post #635 – Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Fall 2012 Issue of International Review Is Now Available

The latest issue of my International Review 24-page magazine is hitting the desks of law firm leaders everywhere.  Once again this issue contains a number of pragmatic articles on law firm management and strategy:

Sliced Too Thin  - As shown by Dewey & LeBoeuf’s collapse, widening compensation spreads can destabilize firms.

• Is Your Compensation System A Problem?  - If we never billed another client by the hour, how would we compensate our fellow attorneys?

Handling Boomers Approaching Retirement: Notes From The LAB  - How do you handle the situation wherein a significant number of your partners are baby boomers approaching retirement?

It’s Time To Think Differently About Law Firm Strategy  - In today’s environment of declining demand for legal services, you must be able to challenge conventional thinking in order to grow.

Thought-Provoking Management Metrics  - Here are a few unusual, unfamiliar and unorthodox, but vital metrics that I think are worth ta king a look at in your firm.

I am pleased to have been putting out this magazine for some years now.  It essentially started when I first began mailing copies of periodic articles I had authored to select managing partners back in the Fall of 1998.  Today, I am (to the best of my knowledge) the only law firm consultant to consistently publish his own magazine for firm leaders.

If for some reason, you haven’t received your Fall 2012 International Review magazine, either click on the cover above to download a PDF copy or kindly send me a note and I will be pleased to get a hard copy sent off in the mail to you.

Post #634 – Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Reasons GCs Fire Law Firms

The other day I watched an interesting interview with Lisa Hart Shepherd, CEO of Acritas Research.  Lisa’s firm interviewed 2500 companies (at least 50% of which generated over $1 Billion in revenues) across 45 different countries.

Acritas found that 33 per cent of respondents fired or dropped a law firm in the last year.  The top reason for switching law firms was pricing, with 22 per cent of respondents noting their previous firm was either too expensive or that the value received was not consistent with the fees charged.  Clients are complaining that law firms are not as efficient as they should be and that they could get far better at using project management systems, more sensible resource allocations, moving some of their lawyers out of the expensive city locations that they are in.

The second area noted by corporate counsel was the quality of expertise or results; manifested in things like a breakdown in the quality of legal advice; inconsistent service from one office to another; strength of expertise being diluted due to losses of talent; and/or not being specialist enough in key areas.

One reason given for switching firms was that the general counsel’s key contact had left the firm, indicating that law firms are not doing enough to institutionalize clients.  However Acritas’s research is also showing that more often when a partner departs a particular firm they don’t tend to take as much of their book of business as they expected.  The learning curve involved as more matters become complex tends to favor the client staying with the firm.  One big problem is that firm’s do not handle it very well when a partner leaves.  They might send a substitute partner to take the client out for lunch, but they don’t invest in convincing the client that they are still committed to the client and that they will work to transfer the knowledge and understanding.

The third area is around the old service and responsiveness issue.  Fourteen percent said they switched firms due to poor service or slow responses from lawyers. And service is probably the easiest thing to fix according to Ms. Shepherd.  “The main problem with law firms is that they aren’t asking often enough and proactive enough about how they are doing.  If they were doing this more often they could rescue clients at risk.”  She said: "In so many cases, it’s clear that firms could have easily prevented the losses if they had had better 'early warning' systems in place – through a structured client feedback program, for example.

Asked if she discovered anything else surprising in her survey work, she responded: One of the things that surprises is the degree of complacency in the market.  So even in this difficult market there is still a bit of arrogance that goes on.  Some of the biggest firms are taking their clients for granted.

Post #633 – Thursday, November 1, 2012

Professional Service Firm Competitiveness

Professional service firms (PSF) and those in knowledge intensive industries are facing the proverbial smoking gun.  Years of unfettered success has left many firms insufficently prepared for what is now a more challenging environemnt.

Firms need to become more competitive but have an incomplete view of what factors drive competitiveness and the role that strategy plays.  Research shows that many firms are unhappy with the results of their strategic planning efforts, perhaps based on misperceptions about what is actually involved  . . .

I'm delighted to announce that a new 60-page e-Book (Professional Service Firm Competitiveness), that I contributed to with my Hong Kong based colleague, Robert Sawhney will soon be made available via Amazon - in Hong Kong, the UK and elsewhere.  Please stand by for further details.

Meanwhile, you may download an excerpt from the text that was published in the recent issue of Professional Marketing Forum’s [UK] distinguished PM magazine – here.

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