As discussed in a previous article, managing partners at law firms have a difficult job. Not only do many of these attorneys need to bill time to clients, but they also need to fulfill a number of administrative functions at a firm. Even though managing partners have so much to do, some of them can micromanage the smallest things about an office. This is usually very inefficient, and managing partners should avoid micromanaging and should delegate tasks to other people at a firm.
I worked at several law firms of all sizes before I started my own practice almost three years ago. The function of the managing partner at each of these firms was similar, although some of the firms at which I worked had numerous offices so the office managing partner had a similar role to the firm managing partners at smaller firms. I was always impressed with how many hours managing partners needed to dedicate to their jobs to ensure that things were running smoothly.
However, some of the managing partners I worked with micromanaged parts of the office in inefficient ways. For instance, I once worked at a law firm at which the managing partner needed to approve all of the retainer agreements that were sent to clients. On a certain level, this makes sense, since the managing partner needs to ensure that the terms offered to prospective clients are good for a firm and keep attorneys from binding the firm to unreasonable engagements even if the arrangement might benefit one lawyer.
One time, I had a potential client that was interested in retaining me to handle a matter. The managing partner told me that he needed to approve the retainer agreement, and I was able to send him a draft retainer agreement within a few hours. The partner then sat on the retainer agreement for days, saying that he was too busy to look at it earlier. This was extremely frustrating since the retainer agreement was only two pages long and offered terms I knew were reasonable for the firm. By the time we got our approved retainer agreement to the potential client, the potential client had hired different counsel. The wait caused by the micromanagement of the managing partner could have kept our firm from originating a solid client.
Sometimes, the micromanagement of managing partners is even more unreasonable. Some managing partners I worked with needed to be consulted when people suggested changing the free food offered by a shop, and the office administrator did not feel empowered to do this on her own. I once worked at another firm at which the managing partner had the final say over where attorneys and staff sat in an office. The firm had gone through a period of layoffs, and the empty spaces scattered around the office was a reminded of the layoffs that had happened in the past.
The office rented several floors in a building, but after the layoffs, perhaps everyone could have been consolidated into one floor and change. Consolidating everyone would make the office seem livelier and eliminate reminders about past layoffs. However, the office administrator said that she needed to get the managing partner’s approval before anyone could move offices. For whatever reason, the managing partner never got around to approving the moves, and the status quo at the office stood. This negatively impacted morale at the office, and this could have been fixed if there was less micromanagement on behalf of the managing partner.
Law firms typically have a number of administrators, in addition to managing partners, that can help with the administrative tasks of running a law firm. Indeed, law firms typically have office managers, facilities managers, and others who are tasked with maintaining the physical space in which a law firm operated. Moreover, human resource professionals, marketing teams, and other employees at firms can handle many of the nonlegal tasks associated with running a law firm. Some law firms even have C-suite officials like CFOs so that designated management officials can handle administrative tasks that could keep managing partners from serving clients and billing hours.
Managing partners should rely on administrative officials at a firm to make decisions so that attorneys and staff do not need to get the approval of a management partner for relatively trivial matters. In addition, managing partners should foster a more decentralized environment so that attorneys feel more like they can operate on their own initiative rather than waiting for the “brass” to decide a matter since this can delay the decision-making process. In this way, managing partners can eliminate inefficiencies in an office and ensure that managing partners, attorney, and staff and more focused on serving clients rather than worrying about nonlegal administrative issues.
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 email@example.com.