Post # 945

Sharing Firm Leadership: NOT For the Faint of Heart.

Interestingly, there is a pronounced trend toward firms adopting a shared leadership model, with perhaps the most recent example being the elite litigation firm of Quinn Emanuel. See Karen Sloan, “Litigation giant Quinn Emanuel beefs up leadership, elevating DC, NY partners,” Reuters, May 13, 2022 (noting that 900+ lawyer firm “has shaken up its leadership model, installing two prominent litigators as co-managing partners and shifting namesake Los Angeles-based founder John Quinn from sole managing partner to the newly created role of chairman.”).

If your firm has potential office, group (e.g. “our Global Litigation Practice”), or firm leadership candidates who would be great in the role but are reluctant to give up any of their client responsibilities, the notion of having co-leaders may be an attractive alternative. But, the reality of what can occur, is a lot more complicated.

Over the years I have been a first-hand witness to numerous incidents where the leadership duo has imploded. The job of leading a law firm may certainly be demanding enough for two professionals; but the acid-test is getting two people to really share the role.  

For example, there are certain leadership responsibilities which naturally confer more power than others.  Duties that involve the setting of the strategic direction, investment choices, or selecting key professionals could place one leader in a superior position over another leader.  Unless the power structures are equitable in these power roles, a firm may find that one of their co-leaders is a Co-Chair in name only.  That can create high levels of resentment if pay levels are equal, which creates even more stress in the working relationship.  Disagreements will be inevitable.  If power struggles come to the fore, chaos can ensue.

My observations and research show that firm leaders who relinquish their practices to assume management responsibility may be in a tough spot when their leadership role comes to its conclusion. In my work over the years with training (First 100 Days Masterclass) new firm leaders, I have found that only about 23 percent of firms have any formal ‘parachute provision’ or other compensation formulas to help them ease out of the leadership roles and back into full-time practice. Thus, following your retirement from leadership, you may find yourself having to work under a new compensation arrangement, contingent on your performance as a full-time practitioner. Meanwhile, having passed your client load off to other partners in the firm, you now lack the traditional hefty book of business that makes you attractive to your, or any other firm.

In this article I provide 7 prescriptive guidelines that I counsel co-leaders to sit down and have a frank discussion about.

Read the entire article at Legal Evolution:

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