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Should Managing Partners Also Be Practicing Partners?

In this post, How Many Hours Does Your Managing Partner Bill, Bruce MacEwen analyzes the age-old question of whether a law firm managing partner should serve as a full-time CEO or maintain an active practice, "billing gobs of hours." As MacEwen excerpts from a Wall Street Journal article earlier last week, there are pros and cons to each approach:      

      Lawyers respect great lawyers
      Client contact keeps you current with business needs
      Sends message that law is a profession

      Lack of focus on strategic planning
      Lack of time for communicating with colleagues
      Lack of time to recruit"  

MacEwen writes that at many firms, managing partners practice or not, as they prefer. At Dewey Ballantine, the firm's head, Mort Pierce, bills 3,300 hours a year and has admitted that he lacks passion for management. Analogizing law firms to large corporations, MacEwen doubts that a CEO chair would ever admit to a dislike for management. 

In addition, some lawyers may prefer to stick with billing, not because they dislike managing but because firms reward billable productivity. As MacEwen explains:

Unless there's an explicit exception for the Managing Partner, self-interest will dictate an absentee-manager approach.  The calculus is not complex:  Take on an often-thankless job while impairing my current earnings and, through losing track of clients, tarnish my future earnings as well?  I respectfully decline.

For MacEwen, the choice for managing partners should be clear:

If you're serious about contributing the highest value you possibly can to the firm, resolve to be a single-minded driver of strategy and competitive strength in our ever-more-challenging  environment.

Even though law firms call themselves partnerships, as MacEwen's discussion of the managing partner role bears out, at many firms, there's little sense of a commitment to the greater good. Thus managing partners regularly choose short-term profits over advancing the good of the firm, because they don't feel as if they have a real ownership stake or a vested interest in the firm's future. And that's a larger structural problem that firms will need to fix before the question of whether a managing partner should manage or practice can be adequately resolved.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 30, 2007 at 06:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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