Published for Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute on October 20, 2015
For nearly a quarter of a century I led the partner meetings of one firm. My role was to help our partners understand the world in which we practiced, and why we needed to pursue our strategy to create the best outcomes for our stakeholders.
For the last 20 years, I also chaired the Law Firm Leaders Forum, which gave me the chance to interact with leaders from a diverse set of law firms from all over the United States and the world about the challenges and opportunities they faced. Listening to other leaders taught me a lot about how different firms approach the issues we all face. It also made me better at communicating about these issues to people I did not know well.
In the last two years, I have been asked to participate in the partner meetings of a number of other firms. Here my role is a blend of the two earlier ones: On one hand, I am engaging with partners in the context of the strategy their firm has chosen. And on the other hand, I am doing it not as their leader, but as someone who has done it elsewhere, and brings an unbiased perspective to bear.
Contributing to Law Firm Partnership Communication
I am intrigued by the prospect of helping other law firm leaders communicate with their partners about the changes underway, and the implications of those changes for their firms.
In the meetings I have done so far, I have essentially been asked to share with the partners a tailored and compact version of the Law Firm Leaders Forum, focusing on three main sets of issues, as follows:
— Market Developments and Their Implications
To help partners understand the market realities that are causing the challenges and creating the opportunities that they confront.
Partners need to see the bigger picture, in concrete terms, of the shifts in client outlook and behaviors, the emerging role of legal technology, the competitive position occupied by new entrants, and the changing market landscape created by these and other dynamics. Partners also need to be given insights into new ways to deliver legal service — new design choices, new staffing models and better financial analysis — all of which can make the partners’ careers more satisfying and even more profitable.
— How the Firm’s Strategy Addresses the Changing Marketplace
To help partners understand how the strategic choices their firm has made address the changing marketplace. To bring an outsider’s perspective to the discussion to help validate those choices.
— How Partners Can Adapt to the New World
To help partners think and talk about the adjustments they need to make to adapt and benefit from the marketplace shifts. To share the experience of how partners in other firms have managed to make the changes that are necessary and have lived to talk about it.
Reflections on Partner Reactions
Part of what I find appealing in law firm partner meetings is the interaction with partners. Here are some reflections on the partner outlook I encounter:
- Partners are genuinely curious about the overarching trends that are driving the pressures they encounter. While they may resist particular changes and policies firm management proposes, they are quite open to hearing about the developments that motivate them.
- Many partners’ greatest worry is that efficiency-driven changes will undermine quality. That said, they are quite open to fact-based expositions of how new approaches can actually enhance quality, responsiveness and results.
- Partners are particularly interested in big data and data analytics. IBM’s Watson in particular and other big data systems such as Lex Machina capture partners’ imaginations about the power of technology to go beyond the capability of humans.
- Finally, partners react very positively to concrete demonstrations of how innovation can improve profitability and career satisfaction. They see it as an unexpected bonus that accompanies the inconvenience and risk associated with changing the way things are done.
As I continue with this new role in law firm partner meetings, I hope my ability to bring my perspective and experience will prove beneficial not only for individual partners and their firms, but for the profession as a whole.