Managing the Unprofitable Partner & Dwindling Client Practice

Managing the Unprofitable Partner & Dwindling Client PracticeAt the recent Thomson Reuters COO & CFO Forum, I was honored to moderate a panel of law firm executives on Managing the Unprofitable Partner & Dwindling Client Practice.

Thanks to John Donnelly, COO at Jackson Lewis; Charles O’Donnell, COO at Duane Morris; Buck Owen, Chief Practice Officer at Dentons; and Robert Seabolt, Partner & COO at Troutman Sanders, for their participation and candid comments. Clearly, this is an area in which each of these executives has experience—perhaps more than they would like. Also evident was the adeptness with which they have learned to help their firms navigate through the still largely uncharted waters of managing out to manage results.

The session defined what an unprofitable partner looked like and how to handle the situation. The secret is that it’s all about MORE:

  • More use of daily dashboards with up-to-date practice metrics. Some even provide an A, B or C "score."
  • More emphasis on profitability and annual evaluations with a long-term view.
  • More—and earlier—conversations with partners who are (or need to start) approaching retirement.
  • More effort to understand all that is happening in their lives—professional and personal—that may be impacting their practices, including industry or economic changes and personal issues such as divorce, family illness, children's issues or even addiction.
  • More support to "turn it around"—provided the overall practice area is deemed viable and the partner is committed to the effort and willing to do the hard work required.
  • A more holistic view of the firm and the impact an exiting partner has on the psyche and culture, with an acknowledgement that sometimes exiting an unproductive partner gives others more confidence that management is paying attention and willing to make hard decisions.
  • More people involved in the conversations around a potential departure.
  • More conversations over a period of time regarding the firm’s view of an individual partner or practice, such that it is not a surprise when the final decision is made to part ways.
  • More than just a discussion about one person. Staffing needs to support the practice, space planning, other partner retirements.

Firms need to look at the analytics and run the numbers and take all the information into account so they can make an educated decision. If firms take these measures early and evaluate often, they will be better positioned to avoid unnecessary disruption while continuing to move the firm forward. It's a competitive world out there. There simply is no time for delays.

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Amanda K. Brady is a Managing Director and the Global Practice Leader of Major, Lindsey & Africa's Law Firm Management practice. Amanda has 15 years of executive and legal search experience, the last 10 of which focused on building executive management teams for AmLaw 100 and 200 firms. She can be reached at 713.425.1627 and abrady@mlaglobal.com.

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