Our firm is a 17 attorney insurance defense firm in Cincinnati, Ohio. We are in first generation and we have 9 equity partners, 3 non-equity partners, and 5 associates. We are managed by a three member executive committee and a firm administrator. We have been discussing the need to create a few practice groups and appointing practice group leaders for these groups. We are wondering what the roles of these leaders should be and what should be expected of them. Your advise is appreciated.
The overall purpose and role of practice groups as well as their leaders should be to create structure and accountability within their respective practice groups to maximize the economic potential of the firm while institutionalizing the principles of leadership and teamwork. The practice group leaders should have discretion as to how to implement these responsibilities within their groups. Recognizing that practice leaders have many priorities, it is expected that they may delegate certain functions to one or more partners within their group, i.e., training associates, reviewing and following-up on marketing initiatives established by the group and individual members, etc. It is also anticipated that the practice leaders may call upon the members of the executive committee to assist in the implementation of these initiatives. However, practice leaders must retain responsibility for working with timekeepers within their practice group – partners, associates and paralegals – on their individual productivity, billing, collection and marketing efforts.
Here is a list of typical practice group leader responsibilities:
On a regular basis, monthly at the outset and at least as the end of each quarter after target levels have been achieved, practice leaders should review the billable hours of each timekeeper in their practice groups. Are partners pushing work down and is there sufficient billable work to keep all timekeepers fully occupied to meet target performance levels, and distribution of work among practice group associates.
2. Economic Performance
Equally important to the success of a law firm is the need to improve the effectiveness of its attorneys’ billing and collection practices. Practice group leaders should review monthly accounts receivable reports for the practice partners and to work with each partner to take prompt and appropriate actions to cure delinquencies.
3. New Client/ New Matter Intake Procedure
Except for the conflicts checks, partners in a great many law firms make individual decisions committing their firm to a particular client representation.
Since practice leaders are expected to be responsible for setting the course, and profitability, of their respective practices, i.e., implementing the practice area strategic plan, it follows that they should play a significant role in the decision on what work the practice should pursue through client development initiatives and what work it should accept.
4. Associate Mentoring, Compensation Adjustments and Growth
Practice group leaders should take the lead to implement the firm’s mentoring program for each practice group associate and periodically evaluate the each associate’s growth, ensure preparation of annual written reviews of all associates by partners supervising their assignments and assume responsibility for prompt implementation of performance improvement directives or outplacement.
5. Partner Compensation Recommendations
Practice leaders should assume an important role in the compensation evaluation of partners in their practice group. Practice leaders should prepare annual qualitative evaluations of each partner in the practice, and, where applicable, coordinate evaluations for partners associated with more than one practice group. In addition, they should review annual performance statistics for each partner and make recommendations to the Compensation Committee.
6. Strategic Planning and Practice Development
Partners in a great many law firms focus their attention on the development of their individual practices and to commit their firm’s resources to support these efforts. While I endorse these individual efforts, many of the more financially and professionally successful law firms have determined that it makes sense to create some structure to ensure that the individual efforts fit within the overall strategic plan for their practice area and their firm.
7. Lateral Candidate Opportunities
Whether as a result of strategic planning or unanticipated circumstances, it is anticipated that all of the firm’s practice areas will be opportunistic to the possibility of considering lateral acquisitions with profitable books of desirable business to enhance the firm’s practices. Because this process may be time consuming for the firm’s lawyer management, it will be important for the practice leaders to identify resource needs, conduct initial screening of lateral candidates, and when a viable candidate is found that satisfies the firm’s screening criteria and the practice group’s strategic plan, make recommendations to the Executive Committee.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
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