Almost every lawyer dreams of building a strong law firm – a team of lawyers who compete and win business while earning significant profits. But in a world where many attorneys spend their entire careers as sole practitioners with only modest success, it is obvious that creating a strong and stable law firm is easier said than done.
Despite the difficulty in pulling off the formation of a strong firm, the keys – according to experts who have experience creating some of the nation’s best known firms – are surprisingly simple: establish clear leadership, focus on developing legal talent, and cultivate a close, trusting relationship with clients.
Establishing Clear Leadership:
As every managing partner knows, law firms can often be cesspools of big egos with little clear direction and a million different ideas of how to operate. While ego cannot be totally eliminated, firms can create a culture where there is an obvious leader and defined, meaningful roles for the rest of the firm’s attorneys.
Instead of juggling leadership responsibilities among numerous lawyers, name a single managing partner. If the firm has multiple offices, tap a deputy managing partner to lead each office – coordinating closely with the overall head. And ensure that leadership in each practice area has objectives that are closely aligned with the managing partner’s goals. Consider empowering an executive committee of the top-performing partners to serve as a “board of directors” to complement the managing partner’s “CEO” role.
Focus on Developing Legal Talent:
Unlike many businesses, a law firm’s biggest asset is its human capital. Without talented lawyers, a law firm will struggle. With a team of committed professionals, the firm reaches a level of success where the overall value of legal work is greater than the sum of the parts.
Young associates should be carefully mentored and shown consistently that are valued. Junior partners should be given significant responsibilities and placed in roles where they can hone leadership skills. Non-legal professional staff should be carefully selected for their ability to add value to the firm. Performance targets should be set and the worst-performing attorneys and staff should be exited from the firm.
Cultivate Close, Trusting Relationships with Clients:
Any single attorney at a law firm can bring in business and work with clients. The value from a firm structure derives from the ability of the firm to function as a full-service legal representative and adviser for clients, meeting their needs across a range of service areas.
Clients should be treated with respect and relationships should be tended to very carefully. Non-legal professional staff should be hired who can help build and sustain these relationships. Attorneys should make themselves available as resources, partners, and friends to clients that have the potential to produce significant revenue. Issues raised by clients should be addressed swiftly, at the managing partner level if necessary.
Hitting the trifecta is hard, but valuable:
It isn’t easy for firms to succeed, but focusing on leadership, talent development, and client service is a winning formula. Add hard work, and you’ll be on the path to success.
Jay Sekulow is an American attorney and Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ).