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Every law rm needs a leader. Law Practice (LP): Can you tell us a little bit about
And while law rm management your rm?
structures vary greatly, most firms

l are led by a single person, often RABINOVITCH: HGRGP was formed several years

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called the managing partner. The ago with the amalgamation of three long-standing
process for managing partner suc regional law rms. It has ve o'lces across Simcoe
cession also varies greatly by firm, County, a large area in central Ontario just north of
the Greater Toronto area. HGRGP is a general prac
but there are common challenges
tice rm with 34 lawyers and more than 65 support
that occur at many firms: nding

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staff. A management committee composed of a man
willing or suitable candidates, train- aging partner and two other partners manages it.
ing the successor and carrying out HGRGP also has a full-time executive director who
the transition. At the request of the oversees the daytoday operations of the rm. The

l
Law Practice editorial board, I asked rm organizes itself by way of practice groups.
four managing partners to share
their experiences regarding manag- GORDON: Since 1902 C&D has provided compre-
ing partner succession. They are hensive legal services to clients ranging from individ-
Paul Rabinovitch of HGR Graham uals to Fortune 100 companies across the nation and
Partners LLP (HGRGP) in Simcoe the world. As one of the largest and oldest law rms
County, Canada; Kevin Gordon of in Oklahoma, we offer a comprehensive approach to
i Crowe & Dunlevy (C&D) in Oklahoma clients legal needs in nearly 30 areas of practice.
City, Oklahoma; Marc McAree of
MCAREE: WSEL has been in existence for four
l Willms & Shier Environmental
Lawyers LLP (WSEL) in Toronto,
decades. Our rm has 16 lawyers, ofwhich six are full

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equity partners. We specialize in environmental law,
Canada; and Jan Goddard of Aboriginal law and energy law. Our environmental
Goddard Gamage Stephens LLP law practice is all encompassing and the mainstay of

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(668) in Toronto, Canada. our rmand has been during our rms history. In
the realm of Aboriginal law, we focus on First Nation

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economic development and predominantly natural
We typically
Y IMAGES (PREVIOUS PAGE)

resources project work, and much of our energy law

select someone
practice involves clean tech energy.

GODDARD: GGS is a boutique rm in Toronto, pro


viding full services in the elds of estates and trusts,
capacity and elder law. This means our seven lawyers
with considerable
firm management
PHOTO COURTESY OF DAN DALTON. GE

provide a wide range of litigation services, drafting


wills, powers of attorney and trusts, and assisting
with estate administration.
expeence,
LP: How did you identify the succeeding managing
partner? including service
RABINOVITCH: Before our year-end partners
meeting, any partner who is interested in taking on
on our executive
the role of managing partner is invited to put his or
her name forward. The only requirement is that the
committee.
person is a partner in the rm, At the yearend part- Kevin Gordon
nership meeting, the partners hold a vote, and the
partner with the most votes becomes the managing our practice and rm. We engaged two succession con-
partner. Since our rm has only existed for about sultants (both from the same consulting rm) to (1)
ve years, we have only had two managing partners. interview all of our lawyers well in advance of meeting
In the rst instance no one put their name forward to talk about succession, (2) identify an issues list, (3)
except the one person who became the managing prepare an agenda for discussion, (4) facilitate meet-
partner and, in the second instance, two parties put ings of the partners and (5) draft a succession plan for
their names forward, and there was a vote. To date circulation and comment by the partners. With the aid
there has been no attempt by the management com- of the consultants, we decided a number of key issues
mittee to identify potential candidates to take over during our meetings, including which partner would
as the next managing partner. be responsible for implementing our succession plan
and who would be our next managing partner. After a
GORDON: As a larger and longer-established rm, lengthy period training under my predecessor, I transi-
we have more structure in place to identify a suc tioned to the managing partner position at the start of
cessor for the managing partner. We typically select 2014. Through the training period our former manag
someone with considerable rm management expe- ing partner and I developed and worked through our
rience, including service on our executive commit- own written agenda of managing partner issues and
tee. We have found this provides good continuity of strategies for discussion. We met frequently, including
leadership and is essential to developing and imple for dinner once every six weeks for about a year or so
menting long-term business plans. and churned our way through our own agenda while
using day-to-day rm management issues as practical
Y lMAGES

MCAREE: From inception, and for most of our four examples for discussion.
decades, we have had the same managingpartner. Given
PHOTO COURTESY OF MOOF, GEl

the changing demographic at our rm and an identi GODDARD: As a very small rm, my experience
ed need to introduce a second generation ofpartners, is very different. I founded the rm in 1999 and
in 2011 our partners embarked on a formal succession have managed it since then. A few years later, I
planning process. All partners were of the view that a hired my rst associate, and she became a partner
succession plan was essential to ensure continuity of several years ago. We have worked together closely
our practice and clients and to i-nable overall growth of 0 'er the years, and our plan for hf r to succeed me

www.|awnractice.org | November/Decembe' 2016 Law Practice 31


as managing partner has felt natural and foreor- transition was needed for our partnership to remain
dained. Its only when I start thinking about who strong and vibrant going forward.
will succeed her as managing partner that I realize
how much luck has been involved in there being GODDARD: We are partway through the transi
someone on the scene who can succeed me because tion, and I remain managing partner, but my suc-
she has the right leadership and management skills cessor is quite involved in ongoing management. In
and the desire to do so. Identifying her successor many ways we operate as a committee of two. A few
will be a greater challenge. years ago I had to take three months off for personal
reasons. My successor acted in my stead. I completely
LP: Can you describe the steps you took to imple- stepped away and let her handle everything. It was a
ment the transition? ) great learning experience for both of us.

RABINOVITCH: In both instances little was done LP: Did any unanticipated things come up as you
to implement the transition, and the person chosen moved through the succession?
as managing partner had been on the management
committee and involved in the management of the RABINOVITCH: No signicant issues arose. However,
rm for several years. As a result they were quite the biggest issue is probably that moving from a
familiar with the operations of the rm. There was member of the management committee to manag-
no overlap between old and new managing partners ing partner places a much greater workload on that
so, when the new managing partner took over, the person than one would think from having been a
old managing partner was no longer a member of member of the management committee. There are
the management committee. There was no training many responsibilities and duties as managing partner
process for the managing partner role. that are not seen by the members of the manage-
ment committee, and a large amount of time is spent
GORDON: Again, it was similar at my rm, but we on day-to-day matters in dealing with the executive
have more operational structure in place. Our rm director, staff, partners and associate lawyers.
is run by a ve-person executive committee that
the president/chief executive ofcer chairs. Two GORDON: There are always unexpected develop
members are elected annually, although they often ments in managing a sizable business. In general,
serve more than one term. The president/chief exec- succession issues were easily handled, apart from the
utive ofcer appoints the other two members of the inherent ebb and ow of legal workespecially liti-
executive committee. In my case, I appointed two gationthat delayed the availability of some of the
proven rm leaders who served with me all four potential candidates for both president/chief execu-
years I was president. So when I chose not to run tive ofcer and other management positions.
again, we had multiple experienced candidates the
rm could feel condent electing as my successor. MCAREE: Not that this was so unexpected, but I
soon came to appreciate that the workload as a new
MCAREE: In 2011 we built into our written succes managing partner was signicant. It was a load that
sion plan the responsibility for one of our partners was layered on top of my other duties as a law rm
to implement our newly minted plan. We identi- partner. There was no subtracting; it was all about
ed that partner during our last succession plan- adding on. The client work still had to get done, and
ning meeting and got everyones buy-in, giving that done correctly and on time. The business develop-
partner authority to delegate tasks and to follow up, ment work still demanded the usual commitment.
all of which occurred during subsequent months. In The rm administration work that every lawyer must
2012 and 2013, we added a succession plan update do was still a priority. And, on top ofthis, was another
to our usual partners monthly meeting agenda. We nearly 500 hours per year of managing partner
made our own checklist of succession tasks to com- engagementand much of whichtneeded to be done
plete. We all agreed to the plan because we knew that during usual business hours.

38 Law Practice November/December 2016 | www.|awpractice.org


Toward the end of my second year as managing Th t


partner in late 2015, I approached my partners to e par ners
discuss options for handling the managing partner I
duties differently We quickly and harmoniously deCIded that 0" r
decided that our rm would try out a co-manag'
ing partner model, with the co4managing partners firm would try out
knowing that they can call on other partners to pitch
in on discrete tasks or projects to share some of the a co ma nagi n g
load. On January 1, 2016, I began working with one
of my partners as side-byside co-managing partners. t d I 'th
From the start we agreed that we would try to avoid pa r ner mo e 7 WI
duplication of effort. We also agreed to convene quar- I

terly (or more often, as need be) to confer and update th e co _ m a n a g I n g


one another about our respective tasks. To date the
co-managing partner model has worked very well in pa rt 6 rs kn OWi n g
all respects, including removing the entire burden of
managing partner from just one partner. th at th ey ca n ca I I

GODDARD: We are a small rm that has grown a th t


lot. Several years ago, we were joined by a partner on 0 er par ners
who is senior to me, but she has not taken an active ' '
role in management and may be closer to retire- to p'tCh In on
ment than me. This means that the succession track
for the rm consists of one senior lawyer (me), fol- discrete taSks or
lowed by one midcareer lawyer, followed by a group
of associates with four to seven years of experience. p rajects to Sh a re
We thought it would be helpful to recruit at least one H
other midcareer lawyer so that my successor would f th I d
not be alone at the top of the pyramid. This caused so m e o e 0a I
unanticipated anxiety on the part of our associates. Marc MOAIGB
It also caused me a lot ofworry about how we would
nd the right kind of person, someone who would
t within our culture. We have since realized that
we are better working with what we have. We have
time to plan for the fact that someday my successor
IMAGE COURTESY 0F MINT IMAGES] DAVID ARKY: GETTY IMAGES

will be the senior person in the rm and the only


one in her cohort. Between now and then we plan
to develop the skills of Our associates, transition
them to partnership and ensure that she will have
adequate support.

LP: What would you do differently next time?

RABINOVITCH: We are trying to implement a policy


whereby the managing partner must come from the
ranks of the management committee and preferably
be on the management committee for at least two
years. The diiculty with implementing this policy is

WWW'awpraci"ze.org I November/December 2016 LuPractIco 39


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that there are many partners 'who do not want to be entails. I think it would be benecial for us to draft
the managing partner or on the management com- job descriptions for the managing partner and for the
mittee or who might not be appropriate as managing management committee members that set out all of
partner. For this reason the pool to draw from is rela- the tasks they perform.
tively small, especially when you factor in the age of
the partners and the age of their families. Young part GORDON: Before becoming president/chief execu-'
ners may not want to take the additional time away tive ofcer, I would have spent more time studying
from their families, and older partners nearing retire- law rm management materials and attending some
ment may not be appropriate candidates. of the training programs available through legal
As a result, I am not sure that any policy will nec service organizations.
essarily always work since there may only be one or
two possible candidates each year. I believe that our MCAREE: In hindsight, I must say, not much. Our
partners may underestimate the work involved in rm and its partners were ripe to embark on a succes-
being the managing partner unless they have been sion planning process in 2011. It was time to look to
on the management committee. When the rm is the future. Succession planning can be scary because
operating well, both nancially and otherwise, the it is about change. By and large, lawyers (and humans)
managing partners role appears seamless; however, it are not so amenable to change because change means
takes a great deal ofwork for that to occur. I think we more effort and the unknown. But, in our rms
need to educate all our partners, so they have a better case, we knew then and continue to know about the
understanding of what the role of managing partner importance of engaging a roster of lawyers of all vin-
tages, from newer to older, and in progressing every
one, including those lawyers who may be suitable to
assume managing partner responsibilities. We also
seem to accept change quite readily. Our rm prides
itself on being nimble and quick with our practice as
it evolves and with our decision making. As I look
back, I can say that taking time to seriously engage
with one another about succession turned out to be
a healthy experience for our partnership and its indi-
vidual partners. Furthermore, succession planning is
not a onetime shot. It should be an ongoing process.

GODDARD: Because I started the rm and always


managed it, we have never had a job description. It
took a long time for me to call myself the managing
partner. I think now that it is never too early for asso-
ciates to understand what is involved in managing the

PHOTO COURTESY 0F GEORGE CASWELL, GEITY IMAGES


rm. A job description educates everyone, assisting
in the management ofexpectations and the avoidance
ofmisconceptions. It may seem overly formal to put a
lot in writing, but I think it would have been helpful.

LP: What do you see as the key piece of advice for a


successful transition?

RABINOVITCH: I think its imperative that the man


aging partner has prior management committee
experience and at least one management committee

40 La- Practico November/December 2016 I www.lawpractice.org

member should remain on the committee for the


rst year ofthe new managing partners term. Ideally, I realize how
much luck has
there would only be one person leaving the manage
ment committee in any given year, for better con-
tinuity. The managing partners term should be a
minimum of three years as the rst year and a half
are spent learning the role.
been involved
GORDON: Plan ahead. A vital component for suc
in there being
cessful law rm management requires an executive
committee whose members bring different perspec someone on
the scene who
tives and constituencies to the decisionmaking
process. Having potential successors with whom
you share common goals and good personal rapport
makes the process much easier. Additionally, having
an executive committee planning retreat early in the
can succeed
transition period helps to ground goals and establish
big picture plans, which inevitably will help garner
[this seat].
buy-in. This is especially helpful since bigticket Jan Goddard
items will take time to cultivate, foster and execute.
go a little bit and adapt as a leader to others needs as
MCAREE: It was important for our partners to have each new lawyer has joined the rm. Succession is a
outside consulting support in the beginning. Simply mindset as much as an event.
put, our partners did not have time to organize a suc-
cession planning process, extract from the process LP: Thanks to everyone for sharing your comments
key ndings and then translate them into actionable today. Even though this brief survey involves small,
transition tasks. Further, the outside consultants gave medium and large rms, you see the common issues.
us outside and independent perspectives. They were Like the rms in our roundtable today, many rms
able to probe and draw out issues that may not have struggle with nding people who are willing and
made their way into our discussion had the partners able to take on a leadership role. It really emphasizes
attempted to handle succession planning on their the need to take a longer-term perspective on suc~
own. Going forward, our partnership will rotate into cession planning. All rms need to proactively take
the role of managing partner one new comanaging steps to identify future leaders, give them opportu
partner while the other co-managing partner remains nities to gain experience and grow their leadership
on until the next rotation. The idea is to ensure that skills. Condent and capable leaders are critical to
our newest co-managing partner always works with the success of a rm, and all rms should take steps
a more experienced co-managing partner. We expect to ensure there is someone willing and able to take
that this will ensure continuity of co-managing part-r on the managing partner role. LP
ners on a rotating basis.

GODDARD: In a small rm like this one, I think the Dan Pinnington is vice president of
biggest step is acknowledging that leadership succes Claims Prevention and Stakeholder
sion has to happen. I recognized as soon as I hired my Relations at the Lawyers'
rst associate that even though she was an employee, Professional Indemnity Company.
He helps lawyers avoid malpractice
the rm now had to be more than a vehicle for me to
a claims and succeed in the practice
pursue my career in law. Everyone who joins the rm h of law. He was chair of ABA
has to be able to work in an environment where their TECHSHOW 2007 and is a past editor-in-chief of Law
career can develop. This means th at I have had 10 let Practl re. dampimnngton@laupro.ca

www lawpracieecrg | November/Dece. iber 2016 Law Practice 1