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Midsize Firms Still Navigating 'Sea Change' on C-Suite Roles

David Gialanella LAW.COM

Which C-suite and business roles are vital to law firms? There is no clear answer to the question, and in fact the answer varies by firm type and size, and will continue to shift over time.

Uncertainty and change haven’t stopped law firms from seeking answers, and sometimes ultimately revamping how they operate as business enterprises, not just as professional partnerships.

It’s a process that began decades ago and is now largely settled at the largest firms, but one that many midsize firms are experiencing right now, according to Rodney Osborne of Major, Lindsey & Africa. He is a managing director in the legal recruiting firm’s law firm management group, which was created in 2010 “after the Great Recession, when firms realized they really needed to ramp up their professional services operations,” he said.

“It’s been a real sea change over the last 20 years,” Osborne said, noting that his group has “been doing more and more” for midsize firms when it comes to placing C-level business leaders and other nonlegal professionals.

“It’s kind of more fun, because they’re still in the process of getting their arms around what law firm management can do,” he said.

Osborne and others said there is a stable of key roles that most firms have accepted as vital: operations, in the form of a chief operating officers, as well as finance, marketing, business development, human resources and information technology. Those might be C-level or director-level roles depending on firm structure, and some functions might be combined within certain roles at some firms.  For some, size and revenue may limit how many roles it makes sense to have.

According to Osborne, once a midsize firm moves to—for example—a COO role after previously having only an executive director with less authority, that firm’s leaders often look to recruit more C-level business leaders after that.

“They realize all that’s possible by professionalizing” the law firm management function, said Osborne, formerly a practicing lawyer himself. “As firms accept those roles … there are other areas that continue to evolve,” leading to pricing and project management professionals, even professional practice management roles, he added.

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