Should managing partners spend more time with clients?
We now interrupt my five part series on “raving fans” to discuss a new online book by Patrick McKenna, a cofounding partner of Edge International, who has worked with top ten professional service firms in over a dozen different countries.
The reason I got distracted is that a who's who of top legal bloggers – including David Maister, Adam Smith, Patrick Lamb, Bruce Marcus, and Gerry Riskin -- recently praised McKenna’s new free e-book in their blogs. When I heard that it was just 23 pages long, I decided to read it right away. The book is called First 100 Days: Transitioning a New Managing Partner, and it includes nine pages of insightful quotes from leaders at some of the largest law firms in the country, including Ropes & Gray, Crowell & Moring, Dickstein Shapiro, and Patten Boggs. While I have no plans to become a managing partner, I thought it would help me understand my customers’ mindset and priorities.
Which it did, with a vengeance. My conclusion: in their first 100 days on the job, managing partners don’t care about sales or about new business.
The book is an excellent summary of real world advice which will be useful to every manager. But when I typed the word marketing in the e-book's online search tool, I was surprised to find that it did not appear in the book. I thought it might just be the terminology, so I went for the more subtle approach and searched for the most important word in business development: listen. The good news was I found eight references to listening. The bad news was that when I looked more closely, all eight were about listening to the firm’s lawyers, not to its clients. So then I searched for the words clients and partners. The score was clients 3, partners 21.
I would like to draw a sweeping conclusion from this data. (After all, that’s what blogs are for.) New managing partners seem so consumed with dealing with other lawyers, that they don’t have time to think about new clients. In fact, they don’t even have enough time for the current clients who are paying everyone’s salaries.
Now I understand that managing a group of attorneys is very very hard. In one of my favorite articles -- “Are Law Firms Manageable?” (American Lawyer, April 2006) -- David Maister describes most law firms as “bands of warlords, each with his or her followers, ruling over a group of cowed citizens and acting in temporary alliance—until a better opportunity comes along.” What’s more, he argues that “Management challenges occur not in spite of lawyers’ intelligence and training, but because of them.”
So it is easy to see why managing partners would get pulled into spending almost all their time looking inside the organization. But, as the legal environment becomes more competitive, shouldn't they be looking outside?
When new CEOs take over multi-billion dollar firms that are many times the size of the largest law firms, you often read about whirlwind tours to visit the biggest customers, to strengthen relationships and get a better understanding of what customers need and what they want. Are managing partners doing enough of this?
It all comes back to one central question: If competition continues to increase in the future, should managing partners spend more time with clients?