Practice Leaders agree and disagree on a lot of things. But when 3 high-performing practice leaders agree, it’s a learning moment. I enjoyed having an insightful panel discussion with Rich Moche of Mintz, Tom Schulte of Clifford Chance, and Philip Sellinger of Greenberg Traurig at the Practice Management 2.0 Conference in Chicago. We focused on how to drive performance. Each of the 3 panelists presented a different perspective—but the following common themes emerged:
The move into practice leadership means an exponential increase in situations with an apparent need for attention. The solution—prioritize. Don’t limit yourself to taking a hard look at the list of items competing for your precious attention. Scrutinize and decide what you absolutely must do and can’t delegate—and what needs to be done now. Now does not mean just short term—now can mean starting strategic initiatives as well.
Prioritizing can become a second nature skill, enabling practice leaders—and their practices—to be more focused and get substantially more done.
Delegation quickly follows prioritization in lessons learned. These practice leaders looked to see what they could delegate up, sideways, down, or to support staff in some way. Limiting yourself to downward delegation constrains the ability to leverage your time. Practice leaders are moving more towards using support and management staff to help get things done.
Embrace Other Professionals Within the Firm
Embracing other professionals is a key part of a practice leader’s strategy. This includes the Marketing/BD department as well as HR. But, the newest area of support is coming from practice managers. These individuals help with running the practice and ensuring associates are being utilized—both for associate careers and maximizing billable time. Some of these practice managers drive communications and act as the go-to person to try to resolve issues which may not need practice leader attention.
Learn Why Not What
As a relationship manager, partners want to know what their client really wants, needs—and how to make this happen. As a practice manager, your focus becomes: “Why did we win this work”? What can we learn from this to win more work? What did clients see as our strengths and why did we stand out? All the practice managers agreed—the only way to learn is to ask clients—whether they interview clients themselves or through 3rd parties.
Talk and Listen to Millennials
The generational divide is top of mind. Our panelists suggest the best strategy for understanding and getting the most out of your millennials is to talk to them—and listen to what they have to say. The millennials may or may not want to be lifers at your firm but—the more they are heard and believe their voice matters—the longer they will stick around. These practice managers also note millennials have a sense of how the business of law and delivery of legal services may be disrupted—as disruption is a routine part of their life.
Overall, these practice managers are optimistic about the future but don’t suggest it will be easy. Each is highly focused and has a clear idea on where their practices are headed—and what they want their practice to look like. Successful practices use different strategies than other practices. These tactics are among those defining the high performers.
The panel consisted of:
Richard H. Moche, a Member at Mintz Levin and Chair of its Public Finance, Real Estate, Bankruptcy, and Environmental Division
Philip Sellinger, who recently served as Co-chair of the Global Litigation Practice at Greenberg Traurig and currently serves as Managing Shareholder- New Jersey; and Regional Operating Shareholder
Thomas Schulte, Senior Counsel at Clifford Chance. Tom recently served as Head of the Americas Banking & Finance Practice and was a member of the Firm's Partnership Council, the supervisory board of the global firm.
I extend my deep appreciation to Rich, Tom, and Philip for their candor, time, and energy in sharing these thoughts with a captivated audience at the Practice Management 2.0 Conference held last week (October 4, 2018) at the Gleacher Center at the University of Chicago.