Here is a provocative scenario: You are in your early fifties, a successful practitioner and in the midst of your best revenue-generating years, when your partners ask you to take on being the firm’s next managing partner. Your initial term is four-years, with an option to renew for additional terms; but you are going to have to give up a substantial portion of your practice to manage and lead your firm. What do you do?
In November 2010, I surveyed and heard from 92 law firms on this and other issues related to firm leadership. My research was a repeat of a survey I conducted six years earlier. The most striking difference was the time spent dedicated to full-time management of the firm. In 2004, 24 percent reported managing their firms on a full-time basis. By late 2010, only 9 percent claimed that their management/leadership roles were full-time. All indications are that this decrease in full-time effort is one consequence of our protracted recessionary conditions. Today, even firm leaders are increasingly sensitive to their partners seeing them make a billable contribution.
My research also shows that leaders who relinquish their practices to assume management responsibility may be in a tough spot when their leadership role comes to its conclusion. Only 23 percent of firms have some form of ‘parachute provision’ or other compensation formulas to help lawyers ease-out of their management roles and back into full-time practice.
What this seems to be stimulating is a growing trend of more firms gravitating towards having co-managing partners. Having co-managing partners who continue to practice law, even while having firm leadership responsibilities, would allow each individual to keep his/her hand in the practice and maintain client relationships against that day when they may return to practicing full time. Perhaps of equal importance in some firms, it provides a measure of credibility that may be needed in dealing with partners.
Now we face a different challenge!
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