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Robert Bodian has shaken up Boston-based Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo during his inaugural year as the firm’s first managing partner from outside of Boston. Since taking on his new role last July, the New York-based litigator — known internally as the managing member — has introduced several policy initiatives, including changing client intake procedures, establishing a partner-in-charge of lateral integration and overhauling the associate review process. He’s also enhanced the firm’s internal communication by keeping partners in the loop about the policy committee’s work. Externally, he’s putting in face time with a wide range of clients and expanding the firm’s cross-selling efforts. Mintz Levin turned in solid numbers for its fiscal year that ended on March 31, a financially constrained period for law firms. The 450-lawyer, eight-office firm ranked 97th on the Am Law 100 this year. It posted a slight loss of 0.9 percent in gross revenue, to $277.5 million, but realized a 2.2 percent increase in revenue per lawyer to $695,000 and a 3 percent increase in profits per partner to $860,000. Bodian spoke with The National Law Journal about the impact of changes at the firm during the past year. The Q&A has been edited for space and clarity. Q: The firm went from a four-person managing partner system in 2003 to a two-person team in 2004 to a sole managing partner in late 2007. Why is a single managing partner the best model for the firm? A: In my view, individual responsibility is always better than responsibility by committee, particularly at the CEO level, which is essentially the managing partner’s role. You really need someone to take responsibility and have a vision for the firm. That’s not to say a policy committee or an executive committee is not a good thing, but it’s hard to say the buck stops here if it’s more than one place. Q: How did you become managing partner? A: Mintz historically, and to this day, doesn’t vote on [this]. It hasn’t been part of the culture. We have a group called a recommendations committee. It went to all the partners of the firm and sought their views as to whom they would like as a managing partner. The partnership ratifies what the recommendations committee is recommending. Q: What changes have you made or implemented? A: I established the position of a partner-in-charge of lateral integration. What that does is convert the recruiting process into more than a recruiting process so that the comfort level is high for the new partner and we collaborate as much as possible. One of the things I wanted to avoid doing is to make partners feel like there are some secrets or some back-door meetings, [so] I also circulate the agenda for the policy committee to all the members in advance. If one of the members has some input, he or she has the opportunity to provide us the benefit of their thinking. After the policy committee meeting, I have a meeting of the partners and discuss what was discussed at the policy committee meeting. The firm also changed the associate review process. It was fairly troubled. Q: How did the firm change the associate review process? A: I had been talking about it with the policy committee for some time. I was fairly insistent. It used to be a kind of a ranking. It was a multiple-choice [questionnaire] that partners would go on online to do. The scale, for any given question, ran from “always exceeds expectations” to “doesn’t meet expectations.” [The categories were] analytical skills, interpersonal skills, how do you think [the associate] performs when dealing with clients, writing skills and speaking skills. What ends up happening is that not a lot of thought goes into it. Also, if you have 200 associates, 190 are within four decimal points. It doesn’t provide any useful feedback, [so] we threw that out completely and asked the partners three or four questions they had to answer in longhand. It basically says: Please describe [the] associate’s strengths, where the associate needs to improve, where the associate is performing relative to class and provide any other information. More or less, that became the format. That’s useful because the partners and section heads have a better idea of how associates are performing. [It's also] better for associates to understand what partners are saying. There is [also] some possibility that we may want to, somewhere down the line, look at merit-based pay. If we ever do it, you have to have a solid review process in place that’s respected in order to even think about going to a merit-based system. [It] can only succeed if there’s a lot of confidence and trust in those implementing the system. You have to get to that point first. NLJ: I understand the firm created a client intake committee of partners just before you became managing partner. Why? A: It’s important as part of the intake, billing, collection and overall client communication process to be reasonably rigorous, just as it’s important to do really good work for the clients. You don’t necessarily want to take on everything just because the [potential] client wants to retain the firm. That could be either because it’s not something the firm ought to be spending its time doing or it could be because the client isn’t in a position to pay for the firm’s services. If it’s a client that shouldn’t be using Mintz Levin, we could help that client get a more appropriate law firm. Q: How does the process work? A: If a client for whom we’d never done business — let’s say it’s a startup or an emerging company or a closely held company or someone [who] is fighting with their brother-in-law over control of a company — [comes to the firm], we often ask for a retainer. If you know the first thing you’ll have to do is file a complaint, or if a complaint has already been filed [and] you have to defend it, we may need [for example] a $100,000 retainer. If they’re not prepared to do that, you’re better off knowing that before we start. You’ve avoided a problem that’s going to impact your realization rates. You [also] could be serving the client’s interest to make sure they know what’s involved. Also, decisions by and large aren’t made by the committee. It’s rotating. On any given day one person has primary responsibility. While it’s a committee, it’s just a shared undertaking. Q: What results have these new client intake procedures generated? A: Realization rates were down in fiscal 2009 [in the industry]. Most firms took a hit. A lot of that is because clients couldn’t pay and those who could pay insisted on some kind of discount. One thing you could do is attribute it all to the bad economy, and the other thing you could do is attribute some of it to the bad economy and see if you could manage it better. At Mintz last year, it went up a couple of percentage points. At our level, in a $300 million business, every percentage point of realization rate is another $3 million. So that’s $6 million that fell to the bottom line. We saw at least a 2 percent increase in realization rates. Q: Have you led any other changes in the way you or the firm relates to clients? A: As managing partner, I’m reaching out to clients and meeting with clients and making sure the clients feel we’re collaborating with them to get done what needs to get done. I want to make sure the clients understand we care about their business and what’s going on. We are also definitely teaming up a lot more. We’re definitely making sure that we understand that everyone at the firm understands what we’re doing with the clients so the efforts can be coordinated. Q: Is the firm trying to do more cross selling? A: Definitely, although I try not to use the term cross selling. But it’s fair to say we’re involved in the activities that could tend to lead to doing more things for our clients. We’re trying to foster a sense of collaboration with the firm so partners want to talk to their clients about things their partners are doing in areas of expertise helpful to the client. If I have a client and I know they’re going to face environmental issues, I want them to meet with partners who have handled environmental work very successfully for some [other] major clients. A lot of new business comes from existing clients, where the need arises because you’ve provided outstanding service. The problem is: Sometimes needs arise and the client doesn’t realize the law firm is capable of filling [them].

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