Managing Partners Forum

The MPF provides a rare opportunity for managing partners to gather and share insights and perspectives on ways to be more effective law firm leaders.

Stephen D. Susman, Esq.
Susman Godfrey LLP - Houston, TX

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Articles

  • Strategic Planning:
    It's Not Just For "BigLaw" Anymore

    by John Sterling and John Remsen, Jr.

    You may recall that, back in March, our MPF Leadership Matters online survey asked about strategic planning and the keys to successful implementation. The results of that survey serve as the basis for our article that appears in the June issue of ALA’s Legal Management magazine.

    The bottom line: More firms are embracing strategic planning than ever before – and they’re seeing positive results from their efforts.

  • A Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
    The Challenging Market for Mid-Size Law Firm Services

    by Peer Monitor - Thomson Reuters

    Although the overall demand for legal services in the US has been flat (at best) since 2008, there are two ways that mid-size firms have outperformed BigLaw according to this report published in late March.

    First, the demand growth for midsize firms is less volatile than for BigLaw and, second, realization rates are significantly better for mid-size firms than for AmLaw 100 firms.

    The report also finds that there are opportunities for mid-size firms to capitalize on the increasing willingness of in-house counsel to feed work to smaller and mid-size law firms.

  • Why Lawyers Are Still Waiting for the Future
    by Aric Press, Editor-in-Chief, American Lawyer Media

    As Larry Richard’s extensive research reveals, lawyers hate change. They’re not too wild about risk either. And the characteristics that make them really good lawyers tend to make them not-so-good business people. But, as we all know, change is all around us. Globalization, technology, demanding clients and competition are having, and will continue to have, dramatic impacts on the business of law.

    In this article, Aric reflects on the future of law and suggests that the wave of change affecting the legal profession has just begun. Is your firm ready?

  • Reaching New Heights
    Midsize Firms Climb into BigLaw's Territory

    by Roy Strom, Chicago Lawyer

    Two MPF Advisory members – Mitchell Roth of Much Shelist and Ray Werner of Arnstein Lehr - are featured in this article appearing in the March 2014 issue of Chicago Lawyer. The article discusses a dramatic shift in the number and importance of legal work that traditionally went to BigLaw that is now finding its way to smaller and midsize firms. The reason? Not only a significantly lower rate structure, but also more flexibility and improved service. The article mentions a recent LexisNexis survey analyzing the legal spend of corporate America and we’ll feature the survey in a future MPF Weekly Update. 

  • Top Priorities for Law Firms in 2014? Depends... 
    by JD Supra

    We start the year with a brief article from JD Supra that asks some of their leading contributors for their thoughts about law firm priorities for the New Year. Most talk about the need for firms to look ahead (not behind) and enthusiastically embrace the changes necessary for long-term success.

  • Ten Questions To Ask Your IT Director
    About Your Law Firm’s Cyber Security

    by Sharon D. Nelson, Esq. and John W. Simek

    We’ve recently seen several high-profile cases where the US Government, along with companies like CitiBank, Target, and American Express, have fallen victim to cyber criminals. There have also been a few instances involving prominent law firms. Can you imagine having to tell your clients that your firm’s data has been breached?  

    So, just how vulnerable is your law firm? To find out, read this article. Then schedule a meeting with your IT Director to make sure your firm is doing all it can to assure a safe and secure working environment.

  • Featured Video 
    by Re-ThinkLaw.org

    Here's a short but hard-hitting video that hammers home the dramatic changes in the legal industry over the past decade. We suggest that you play it at your next partnership meeting and ask your partners what they think. If this doesn't get their attention that your firm needs to change, nothing will. The video is produced by Re-ThinkLaw.org, an initiative launched by an outfit called Axiom. Stay tuned.

  • Driving Execution:
    Seven Ways To Get Your Team's Brilliant Ideas Executed

    by Gerry Riskin

    After 25 years in the legal industry, I often find myself working with firms that are long on planning, yet woefully short when it comes to implementation. My advice? Pick just three meaningful initiatives, dedicate the required resources, and assign a responsible partner – not a committee – to make sure each initiative is accomplished. And follow the advice is Gerry's brilliant article.

  • The 2012 Law Firm Leaders Survey 
    by The American Lawyer

    Despite uncertain US and global economies, leaders of the nation's largest law firms are feeling surprisingly upbeat about 2013, with 75% describing themselves as "optimistic" about the year ahead. For ten years now, The American Lawyer has surveyed the managing partners of the nation's 200 largest law firms to get their take on the legal industry in the coming year. Some other highlights:

    • 80% intend to expand their litigation practices in 2013, especially IP litigation.
    • 41% say corporate will be the most challenged practice area. Real estate is also expected to struggle.
    • 67% of firms used contract attorneys in 2012.
    • 45% of firms deequitized underperforming partners in 2012.
    • 23% say they will make capital calls in 2013 to keep debt levels in check.
    Be sure to check out the charts and graphs by clicking on "Highlights from the 2012 Law Firm Leadership Survey" under the illustration at the top of the article. Really cool.

  • Creating a Strategic Business Plan  
    by Pat Murphy, LawyersUSA

    Along with Robert Young of Lucas English in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I was featured in this article that appeared in a recent issue of LawyersUSA.  In it, I talk about research we've conducted at MPF affirming that law firms that develop and implement strategic plans outperform those that do not. 

  • Succession for Sustainability
    by James D. Cotterman

    Of the dozen or so characteristics of today's most successful law firms, succession planning is perhaps the most often neglected. Yet, succession should be an important element in many firm-wide strategic plans. Succession can be viewed in the context of firm leadership, client relationships and organizational involvement. It involves identifying and grooming future firm leaders, and rewarding retiring partners for successful transition, not just personal productivity.

    In this thoughtful and well-researched article, Jim writes that law firms would benefit greatly from long-term planning and that succession - critical to sustainability - should command leadership's full attention. We couldn't agree more.

  • What's Our Deal?
    by David Maister

    David Maister writes some really good stuff and you'll find lots of his books and articles featured on our Website. This particular article discusses things like mission, vision, values and culture in the context of a law firm. It's a great article to circulate among your partners in advance of your next Firm Retreat. It will get them thinking about a whole bunch of issues, including the rules and codes of conduct (if any) by which your firm and its professionals live.

  • 2011 Law Firms in Transition
    An Altman Weil Flash Survey

    by Thomas S. Clay and Eric A. Seeger

    This year's AW Flash Survey of leaders from firms with 50+ lawyers surprises me in its optimism. And it's back to business as usual when it comes to annual rate increases at the country's largest law firms. Among the survey findings:  

    • 95% of firms increased hourly rates in 2011, by an average of 4%.
    • 95% of firms offer alternative fee arrangements (AFAs), and most say it's less profitable than work billed on an hourly basis.
    • 68% of firm leaders believe that fewer equity partners are a permanent structural change in the legal profession.
    • 60% of firm leaders say that lateral hires do not meet expectations. 
    • 60% of firm leaders believe that contract lawyers are on the rise and a permanent trend.
    The survey was released in late May and, if you have not already done so, we recommend that you circulate it to your partners with your take on things and what it means for your firm.
    Click here (or above) to download the complete 42-page survey report.
    Click here to download the 10-page executive summary.   

  • Make Mid-Sized The Right Size
    by Peter S. Marlette, Esq.

    Peter Marlette, Managing Partner of Damon Morey in Buffalo, New York, has recently joined the MPF Advisory Board. This outstanding article, which originally appeared in the New York Law Journal, is must reading for leaders of mid-size law firms. It discusses the exciting opportunities for mid-size firms in today's marketplace for legal services. Among his recommendation: Adopt and implement a firm-wide strategic plan, and become active in the right law firm network. His firm is a member of ALFA International.

  • Where Leaders Stumble
    by Patrick J. McKenna

    In working with hundreds of law firm leaders over the past twenty years, McKenna has observed several warning signs that often lead to weak or ineffective firm leadership.

  • Five Questions to Ask about Your Firm's Succession Readiness
    by Thomas C. Grella, Esq.

    "A leader's lasting value is measured by succession," says leadership author and guru John Maxwell. Tom Grella, a long-term member of the MPF Advisory Board, puts his spin on the topic from the perspective of managing partner of a mid-size firm. Importantly, he writes about the role of current firm leadership in the process. Tom is Past Chair of the ABA's Law Practice Management Section. This article appears in the May/June issue of the ABA's Law Practice magazine.

  • Leadership Transitions: Seven Steps to Ensure Success
    by Patrick J. McKenna

    There is no definitive answer to the question of exactly how long an outgoing leader should stay in office after announcing his or her departure. Many management experts advocate a swift transition to avoid lame-duck syndrome or firm drift. However, one-on-one interviews with dozens of firm leaders reveal a very different approach.

  • Anxieties of Leadership:
    Critical Questions and Answers for New Managing Partners

    by Patrick J. McKenna

    For new managing partners, the responsibilities are multi-faceted and the stakeholders are diverse, both within and outside the firm. This article looks at the most common mistakes, the biggest challenges, some unanticipated surprises, and how to avoid them.

  • Law Firm Succession Planning 
    by LexisNexis

    Our friends at LexisNexis have published a series of papers on best practices in the “business of law.” This one looks at best practices in the accounting profession that can be helpful to law firms, especially smaller firms.

  • Your Firm's Future
    Depends on its Succession Plan

    by Feeley & Driscoll, P.C. - CPAs and Business Consultants

    This short article provides some practical guidance on how to transition the role of managing partner through thoughtful policies procedures to encourage a smooth, efficient, multi-year transition of leadership.

  • Administrators: The "Secret Sauce" of Law Firm Success
    by Law Office Management & Administration Report (LOMAR)

    We are strong advocates for strong, competent, business-minded administrators in law firms. Management. Marketing. Finance. Human Resources. Technology. They make the trains run on time, and they make the firm more money. This article talks about the critical role of firm administrators from the perspective of three managing partners - from small, mid-size and large law firms. One thought we especially like: "Acting like a partner, that is like an owner not an employee, goes a long way toward helping the administrator get a seat at the table."

  • Nine Rules for Law Firm Leaders
    by Robert W. Denney

    From strategic planning to effective committee structure, this two-pager gets right to the point. Although simple in concept, these rules are not always easy to apply and follow. But the most successful organizations do....including law firms.

  • 2010 Law Firms in Transition: An Altman Weil Flash Survey 
    by Altman Weil, Inc.

    Here's yet another report suggesting that alternative fee arrangements are here to stay, with BigLaw leading the way. According to the survey of mostly larger law firms, 95% say they use some form of alternative fee arrangements. Yet, the percentage of total revenue generated through non-hourly based billing remains quite low.

  • How Small and Midsize Firms Weathered the Storm 
    by The National Law Journal

    After steep declines in 2008, both revenue and profit for mid-size US law firms have leveled off and remained flat in 2009-10, according to the just-released 2010 edition of this annual survey. With participation from 187 law firms, it's one of the most important and comprehensive economic surveys for smaller and mid-size firms.

  • Is There a Sea Change toward AFAs?
    In-House Counsel Give It a Solid "Maybe" 

    by Inside Counsel

    Over half of in-house counsel - 56%, to be precise - say there has been a "sea change" in how fees are paid to outside counsel. Prompted by the pressure to reduce the overall cost of legal services and fueled by the ACC's Value Challenge, the time seems right to affect change. Yet, the gap remains wide between the perception of fundamental transformation and the actual practice.

  • Legal Industry Faces Major Changes:
    Large Law Firms Facing Intense Pressure to Adapt 

    by Katy Hopkins

    Much ado has been made over the new partnership between Best Lawyers in America and US News & World Report to present their version of law firm rankings. We'll be writing more on that topic in a soon-to-be-published MPF White Paper. In any event, there are a few thoughtful articles on their website including this one. And it's good news for smaller and mid-size law firms.  

  • Isn't It Time That Your Firm Develops a Strategic Plan?
    by John Remsen, Jr.

    Do you and your partners have a written, cohesive firm strategy? Or are you merely sharing office space with other sole practitioners? Strategic planning is the key differentiator, but it's not for the faint of heart.

  • Associates Survey 2010:
    They Survived Economic Downturn, but Now What? 

    by Drew Combs, The American Lawyer

    Now just might be a great time to recruit talented young lawyers away from the big law firms. This survey of 5,092 mid-level associates at AmLaw 200 firms reveals that they are not happy campers these days. Stagnant salaries, reduced benefits, poor internal communication and increasing workloads are the primary reasons. The number looking for a new job has doubled in the past year, with half looking for a better "life/work balance."

  • Study: Location, Firm Size Key to Billing Rates 
    by Ross Todd, Law.com

    Here's an interesting study that puts law firm billing practices under the microscope. It examines invoices received by 36 large corporate clients finds that location and firm size - not lawyer expertise - are the biggest determinants of a lawyer's hourly rate. It also concludes that 75% of proposed rate hikes are accepted, and that a lawyer with the title of "partner" can charge up to $100 more per hour than an "associate" with the same experience.

  • What's Really Going On In Today's Legal Departments 
    by Lauren Williamson

    Good news for smaller and mid-sized firms, according to this article which appears in the current issue of Inside Counsel magazine. According to a recent survey of over 550 in-house counsel, 65% say they have retained more smaller, regional firms over the past two years. The reason? Lower price tag for legal services. But there is even better news. They say they will continue using smaller firms, even after the economy improves.   

  • Why Do Law Firms Die?  
    by J. Mark Santiago

    There are three common reasons why law firms fail, says this article that appears in the June edition of ABA's Law Practice magazine. Lack of leadership. Lack of strategic focus. Lack of financial discipline. Don't let your firm be among those that fall apart or seek refuge through an acquisition.

  • The "New" Leverage and Other Selections from the Trends Medley
    by Robert W. Denney

    In this recently published article, MPF Faculty member Bob Denney says more and more law firms are focusing attention on leverage, associate development, alternative fee agreements and firm management. In our travels about the country, we see the same trends, as well.     

  • Firms' Billing Rates Inched Up During 2009 
    by Karen Sloan

    It's hard to believe but, even during the worst economic recession in over 70 years, US law firms managed to increase their billing rates in 2009. The average was 2.5% according to a recent survey of the nation's largest law firms conducted by The National Law Journal. That increase compares to a 7.7% rate climb in 2007 and 4.3% in 2008. The survey also indicates that a larger percentage of revenue for most firms was generated from alternative billing arrangements.   

  • Keep an Eye on Your Firm's Billing Practices
    by Law 360

    According to research conducted by Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, 55% of lawyers in private practice admit to overbilling on occasion. The temptation only becomes more severe as there is less work to be dome. Don't let this happen at your firm! Not only is the practice unethical, it may also cause irreparable damage to one of your firm's most valuable assets - its reputation.

  • 15 Recession-Response Tips
    by Linda Oligschlaeger

    Recession or not, this article from Law Practice magazine includes fifteen really good ideas for lawyers of law firms, regardless of firm size or practice mix. Many of Linda's suggestions focus on client service and business development. None of them involve rocket science.

  • Leadership Transitions: Seven Steps to Ensure Success
    by Patrick J. McKenna

    Succession planning is neglected by far too many law firms. In fact, most managing partners - 74% to be exact - do not have an exit strategy when they take the job. This helpful article provides seven thoughtful suggestions to smooth the transition when you're ready to pass the baton. 

  • New Report Shows Signs of Life in Law Firm Merger Market
    by Karen Sloan

    The law firm merger market is starting to reawaken according to separate reports published by Hildebrandt International and Altman Weil. Although both reports show that firms aren’t ready to resume the highly aggressive growth strategies contemplated just 18 months ago, the market has started to heat up again. However, "it has turned from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market when it comes to acquiring small firms,” says Altman Weil consultant Bill Brennan.

  • Law Firms 'Over the Worst' of Recession, PwC Report Reveals
    by Rachel Rothwell

    The world’s largest law firms are starting to enjoy the rebounding economy. According to this article from the UK’s Law Society Gazette, profits per partner are up sharply – 18% for the world’s ten largest law firms and a whopping 41% for firms in the 11 to 25 spots – since January 1st says a just released research report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The report says that “profit margins also saw a boost in firms of all sizes.” 

  • A Broken Business Model
    by Joel Henning

    Henning asks "Will it take a revolution to change the way law firms operate?" Will today's current economic crisis force law firms to rethink the old model of annual hourly rate increases? Radical ideas may not only require a change in business model, but a change to the code of professional responsibility.

  • Dealing with the Downturn: How Law Firms Can Meet the Challenges and Exploit the Opportunities
    by Stephen Armstrong, John Claydon, Tony King and Norman Letalik

    This two-part Lex Mundi article focuses on what law firm leaders can do to deal with the downturn through both aggressive law firm economics and strengthening client relationships. The suggested practices can help firms survive the downturn and strategically position themselves for the recovery.

  • What's Hot and What's Not in the Legal Profession - July 2009 Update
    by Robert W. Denney

    For 20 years, Bob Denney has delivered each December his annual “What’s Hot and What’s Not” manifesto. It’s accurate, concise and has great insight. In more recent years, Bob publishes a mid-year update and we’re pleased to feature his July 2009 update.

  • Legal Strategy 101: It's Time for Law Firms to Re-Think Their Business Model 
    by Wharton School of Business

    This fascinating article from the Wharton Business School asserts that the global recession is forcing law firms to change the way they do business. 

  • Yes, This Recession Is Severe – But We’ve Been Through Much of It Before. The Question Is: “Will We Learn from Experience?”
    by Robert W. Denney

    Does this recession remind you of anything? Perhaps it's the same phenomenon we experienced 15 years ago when the dot com industry went bust? Learn what's changed in the legal marketplace since the last recession and what lessons remain the same.  

  • Implementation: The Gutsy Challenge of Strategic Planning
    by Peter A. Giuliani

    A great article for firm leaders about the implementation side of the strategic planning process. Giuliani says fuzzy goals, a lack of genuine commitment and an unwillingness to deal with tough issues often hamper successful implementation. 

  • Will Fate Plan Your Future or Will You?
    by Howard L. Mudrick

    If your firm has never gone through the strategic planning process, this is the article for you! It starts off explaining the basic "whys" and "hows" of planning, but goes deeper into the importance of focusing externally as well as internally. Mudrick was a member of the MPF Faculty for several years before joining Phoenix-based Jennings Strauss as COO in 2008.  

  • Orderly Succession of Law Firm Management
    by Joel A. Rose

    Most firms don't utter the "s" word -- succession -- until disaster strikes. This article leads off with a great example of that. Don't let your firm fall into the malaise and wait until fate forces your hand. Succession planning benefits firm leaders of today and tomorrow.