As mentioned in prior articles, I have worked at a number of law firms throughout my career. Although I started my own shop almost a year ago, I have experiences working for managing partners at several law firms. The time I have spent running my own law firm and working as an associate at different shops has shown me how managing partners have an extremely difficult job. Indeed, these lawyers must usually deal with the egos of other partners at the firm while overseeing a multitude of administrative tasks. Usually, they also have to continue their own legal practices while overseeing those administrative functions. From my own experiences, all good managing partners have a few qualities in common, and lawyers should keep this perspective in mind when deciding who should hold these positions.
Legal Acumen. All of the good managing partners with whom I have worked were exceptional lawyers in their own right. Each of those attorneys had a solid understanding of the legal issues involving the matters we handled and knew how to divide tasks among the lawyers on a team to meet a client’s objectives. Unfortunately, at some of the law firms at which I worked, managing partners did not always get the chance to conduct many legal tasks, since they were too busy overseeing the firm’s administrative matters. However, each time a solid manager stepped up to do legal work, I was impressed with their legal acumen.
One time, earlier in my career, I reported to an insurance adjuster who would only allow senior partners at our firm to handle a mediation. One of the designated attorneys was our managing partner. Even though the managing partner rarely completed legal tasks on his own, witnessing him at that mediation was like seeing Michael Jordan come out of retirement to enter the court once again. That partner dominated the mediation and got our client an unexpectedly good result. Since managing partners need to understand all of the contours of the matters handled by a firm, and must step in and work on legal tasks as they arise, good managing partners must be solid lawyers.
Organizational Skills. All of the effective managing partners with whom I have worked were extremely organized. Managing partners usually need to oversee numerous matters and ensure that cases are handled properly. I once worked at a law firm that had well over a thousand lawsuits between the thirty or so attorneys at the firm. Each day, an unbelievable amount of mail arrived at the firm for all of those matters. Nevertheless, the managing partner read all of the mail that was received and made notations on anything that needed to be addressed. In addition, that partner saw the files of all new cases we received and wrote a plan of action for every matter we handled.
At another firm, I worked for a managing partner who was the recipient of all emails related to each of the thousands of cases we handled. Despite the sheer volume of the communications we received, this partner made sure to forward each email to the appropriate attorney and conduct follow up with an attorney if necessary. Furthermore, the managing partner either did not sleep (or woke up often), since he would forward emails and follow up at all times of the day and night. I never really understood how those managing partners were able to handle all of that work on top of their own legal tasks. In any case, organization is critical to being a successful managing partner.
Personality. The personality of a managing partner is also extremely important to success or failure in the role. A good managing partner needs to be very personable. Managing partners need to get along with people, since they need to work with a diverse group of individuals who do not always agree about how to best approach a situation. In addition, a managing partner needs to be very empathetic. Managing partners need to deal with disciplining employees, firing workers, helping employees through tough times in their lives, and a number of different situations. A managing partner that connects with employees is going to be much more successful. At the same time, managing partners need to be stern. They are usually the people most responsible for collections at firms, which requires a tough attitude. In addition, managing partners often need to make tough decisions about layoffs, finances, and other issues.
All told, operating my own shop has shown me how difficult it is to be a managing partner at a law firm. As a result, I have a lot more respect for everyone who holds that position than I did as an associate. For a variety of reasons, managing partners need to strike a delicate balance in how they act and manage their practice in order to be successful at running a firm.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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