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Figuring out how to organize your day is a universal problem — especially when your time is almost never your own. With that in mind, Legal Times asked five chairmen and managing partners of major D.C. firms to take time out of their day (which wasn’t easy in and of itself) to talk about precisely how they go about their day. As Washington law firms have moved toward resembling the Fortune 500 companies they represent, the role of managing partner today is less in the fashion of symbolic office-holder and more in the model of meta-powerful CEO. Some of the lawyers are still practicing. Others are full-time managers. Lateral hires, partner quibbles, client conflicts, and management meetings are just the start of a managing partner’s job description. It almost goes without saying that the quintet works hard. But being busy does not always mean being productive and therefore is not inherently the sole key to success. The common threads that came out of the discussions were an ability to work with others, to trust your gut, and to believe that making the right decision isn’t always as important as simply making a decision.
MARC FLEISCHAKER Chairman, Arent Fox I’m a strong believer in management by walking around. I try to make a floor a week so people can see me. It’s a critical thing, accessibility. People like to know there’s access. I spend half my time on management and the other half on clients. Makes for a busy day. I’d guess I spend about 3,000 combined hours working. I think it’s a fair statement to say I work harder now than I ever have. But, so far, I still like what I’m doing. Our senior executive committee wanted me to spend more than half my time on the management, but I wanted to keep practicing. I have a group of loyal clients that I’m not ready to give up. I’m on the road a lot. Forty percent of my time I’m traveling either for my own practice or for the firm. I’m usually up by 5:30 a.m. My wife is a teacher, so we’re early risers. I try to exercise in the morning. I run in my neighborhood. And I still get in the office no later than 7:30 a.m. The first hour of the day is my time. I’ll try to respond to e-mails and read The Wall Street Journal,, The New York Times and Law.com to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry. Then meetings start without fail by 8:30 a.m. Coffee meetings are big for me. I’ll duck out with whoever would like to talk and go on a coffee run. Coffee is certainly an addiction. I need that to start my day. I probably talk to 10 partners a day just to stay in touch. Some of it may be about practice direction, an important client issue, or just chatting people up. We’re a mid-sized firm. Which means we don’t have a lot of people focusing on lateral growth. So that’s where a lot of my time goes; of the time I spend on management, roughly half is on laterals. That’s also because you can’t keep the partnership as involved with every potential lateral hire because of conflicts. But I try to keep the executive committee informed. Just today I had breakfast with a lateral group I think we’re going to get. So with laterals I’m either talking to prospective lawyers or negotiating with people or making sure they’re integrated properly once they come in. Our managing partner oversees much of the day-to-day activity — about 80 percent of his time is spent managing the firm, so I try to refer as much as I can to him. I’m involved in major budget decisions. I manage our major client survey. On policy issues about growth and big-compensation issues I’m heavily involved. I’m also the point person when talking to clients of the firm. When a senior official needs to meet with someone from the firm, that’s my job. Here we’re a democracy. I report to an executive committee, and sometimes they don’t agree with me. There was something today they didn’t agree on, and they put me in my place. I have a lot of influence but very little unilateral power. So a big part of my job is not getting too far out without bringing partners into the discussion. When we merged with a firm in L.A., I went out, found the firm, and did all the legwork. But getting approval from the partnership wasn’t very complicated because everyone knew what was going on. I always tried to be responsive with my partners. But the importance of it has magnified in my mind over the years. People may not agree with everything I say, but if I’m not responding quickly then I’m losing the natural advantage I have by being a smaller firm. E-mail is big. I try to stay on top of my e-mails throughout the day. If I get behind, it’s impossible to catch up. I’m very responsive to people in the law firm. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get back to a partner’s question, whether it’s by phone or e-mail. I feel I have to be very responsive. With clients, I think I might say �I’ll get back to you,’ if the issue isn’t pressing. But I do think you have to view your partners as a client. I don’t know how people in 1,000-lawyer firms do it, frankly.
J. WARREN GORRELL JR. Chairman, Hogan & Hartson This is the only job I ever had. I started Hogan & Hartson three days after graduating law school. I’m constantly in touch on BlackBerry, but I try not to be an addict. Still, the first thing I do every day is scan through all of my e-mails and see what is pressing. I probably get over 250 e-mails a day. I’m literally looking to manage every second and not spend any more time than I have to on something. E-mail is great, but it’s also terrible because it can consume you. I’m a morning person. I really view my personal time as 5:30 a.m. until 7:45 a.m. I spend at least 45 minutes running or on the elliptical. Lately I’ve been training for a trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I’m using the stepmill. If people want to have breakfast I say, “Look, I can do that at 7:45 after I finish working out.” I have so much going on that if you don’t protect some of your own space, you’ll be consumed by everything else. When you’re lucky enough to be the CEO of a $750 million to $800 million business you have to be able to trust those around you. That’s hard for a lot of people to learn, because we all got where we are based on what we do. You can’t have a huge practice and have people feeling they have a stake in it if you micromanage. As chairman, my job is trying to coordinate and give direction to the management of the firm. It’s fair to say I’m an eternal optimist. I can basically do whatever I have to do in a given time, thinking that tomorrow will be better. I wanted to stay involved in my practice, and there’s a lot of revenue associated with doing that. I do mergers and acquisitions, and the hospitality industry has been busy in the last 18 months with a big uptick in the network. In a normal year, I probably have 700 to 800 client billable hours and twice as many Hogan & Hartson hours on top of that. Last year, I had 1,400-plus billable hours, so it was a hard year. But when it comes to balancing between Hogan and a client, I err on the side of a client. With my clients I rarely get involved in day-to-day business. Where I do get active is when there is a big matter or big problem. The biggest challenge is doing everything the way you’d like to but on the time schedule that you have available. Second is that I have a high pain threshold, which means sometimes you have pretty long days. I typically work over 3,000 hours a year, which includes the travel time to our other 21 offices. I spend time at every office during a calendar year. When I’m in a different town I’ll go to meetings with firm clients. It’s meaningful to clients to know that the Hogan & Hartson management knows them and appreciates their business. So when a problem arises with a big client, they know they can call me directly, and I can help figure out how we can help get the right resources. While I’m at another office I always spend time with the partners, whether it’s individual meetings or lunches or dinners. And I have lunch with the associates. Along the way I found that I knew the associates outside of Washington better than the ones here. So then I started having lunches with every associate in the firm at least once a year. I never have trouble going to sleep. In fact, my family keeps a photo album of all the places I’ve fallen asleep.
MICHAEL NANNES Chairman, Dickstein Shapiro My job is not only strategic about where our firm is going but also strategic about my relationship with the partners and the firm’s strategic relationship with our clients. If people know where you’re going, you can get there much more quickly. People get nervous and stray when they don’t know what is the right direction. I try to leave home before 7:15 a.m. Then I can get a lot of work done before the phones are ringing. We have a cafeteria which is a pretty nice open space. I try to spend some time there in the morning. Partners or associates may have issues they want to talk about but not want to schedule a meeting formally. That has been a real glue for us at the new office space; with the informal interaction we can create a community sense. If someone wants to come by and grab a coffee, they know I’m available. You need to be organized and efficient with your time — but you also have to give the personal touch. Flexibility with the time you spend with people is very important. I spend a lot of time with the firm’s general counsel and the D.C. office’s managing partner. Over the course of a day I’ll talk to 20 to 25 partners. I’ll walk the halls and stop in and ask people how they’re doing; I like to flatter them. I get to New York generally twice a month. And I get to L.A. once every two or three months. I operate under the same theory as being in the cafeteria. Often there is nothing that requires a meeting, but people like to talk. They like to bounce an idea off me, tell me what they’re doing on business development, ask how the firm might support an initiative without having to write a formal memo to the executive committee. I still consider myself a lawyer, but something’s missing. I’m no longer practicing. There is so much about this job that requires interpersonal skill, almost a psychology degree, an ability to understand people. You do a lot of work with strategic planning — lateral hires, potential mergers, looking at practice areas — but one thing I did not anticipate as much were the interpersonal factors. I really try to get inside my partners’ heads to understand what is going on. You have a lot of Type A people who are very driven, and sometimes you have to let them vent. Sometimes people will ask you something, and in their hearts they don’t want to do it, and they are looking for you to say no. You have to understand the motivators of the people in the firm. The BlackBerry is too much of my day. I don’t have a good enough filtering process. When I’m traveling my assistant will often prioritize what I need to see. But when I’m in town, I see everything — hundreds and hundreds of e-mails. I’m constantly firing off e-mails. But I have two mantras: never in anger, and sometimes you just got to pick up the phone. People can stew over an e-mail, and I assume that every message I write will be in your publication. Delegating is a big part of what I do. But when you delegate, you also have to get out of the way. If people believe I’ve delegated it but might reverse every decision, then I’ve done nothing. I don’t have to review every choice a practice group makes. They have a budget. They are told to make decisions and prioritize. The higher profile decision — hires, large cases, client conflicts — will come to me, partly because I want to see how my practices are thinking. I’ve learned that, 80 percent of the time, the decision you make isn’t as crucial as making a decision and moving on. There’s a lot of times where the firm’s decision-makers are in a reactive mode. We struggle mightily and are reasonably successful to be in a proactive mode. We should always step back. Don’t just make a decision for the day — think about where we want to go and how we want to position ourselves for the future.
WILLIAM PERLSTEIN Co-Managing Partner, WilmerHale I normally get up at 6:15 a.m. After checking the news, I’m reaching for my BlackBerry no later than 6:45 a.m. We have a new rule that BlackBerrys are allowed in the bedroom because our kids respond to texting. I’m looking at my BlackBerry right away because we’ve got 130 lawyers in Europe. If you wait until 9 a.m. here, it’s 3 p.m. in the afternoon there. And if you’re competing with Freshfields, which is headquartered in Germany and London, their management is already awake and on top of things. I’m on the securities floor, which I purposefully did because it’s the core part of our practice. If I have a moment before meetings, I’ll read the Financial Times and the Journal while eating breakfast at my desk. I do very little practicing at this point. I’ll get involved on a big-picture problem with a client. I became the chairman in 1998. I was practicing 50 or 60 percent of the time. By 2000, as the firm started to grow, it became more and more difficult to practice and manage. Bill [Lee, formerly the managing partner of Hale & Dorr, now the co-managing partner of WilmerHale, and who is based in Boston] might be the hardest-working man I know. He’s still practicing a lot. I’m doing the day-to-day managing. I don’t roam the halls and do pop-ins. I think it’s disruptive. If I show up suddenly, there’s gossip. This job is hard. You’ve got enormous egos. Everyone is driven, everyone has various insecurities that motivate them, everyone is extremely competitive. With that being said, everyone is pulling in the same direction. I’ve always had that interest in running a business. Lawyers are taught to be risk averse. My job is a very different mindset. I definitely won’t go back to practicing. I’m not sure what I’ll do after this. I’m truly on 24/7. And that’s by choice. It goes back to control, which might sound more negative than it should, but I do live this job. The only way I know how to do it is to be constantly thinking about it. There’s no magic to the job. It’s about hard work and trusting your gut. I’m not coming up with an algorithm on how to do well. It’s constantly knowing that there’s more to do: What can I be doing to check in with “partner X”? I haven’t spoken with “client Y” recently. My tendency is to try and solve every problem, and that’s something I have to fight. It’s a learned behavior, not trying to come up with every solution. I need to respect the lines of authority, let my practice heads handle some issues. A lot of my time involves dealing with partners. That includes listening to their own practice needs and goals. I try to spend time with younger partners. We do a lot of leadership and management training. When you think about law school, it’s a very solitary environment. There is no teamwork. It is how well you do. Then you come to a law firm and are with a team of 20 people and you’ve never worked in a situation like that. I’m involved a lot with training partners and how they relate and work together with clients, associates, and senior partners. One of the most difficult issues I’ll get involved with is when there are major conflicts where the position we’re taking on the matter we know another client is going to be unhappy about. I’m constantly traveling. I go to Europe about five times a year. I go to the West Coast three or four times a year. I go to New York two days every other week. I go to Boston every other week. While I’m there, I take every opportunity to go out and see clients. I also do a lot of the management programs, symposiums, with other firms, which both teach me and get the firm’s name out there. A lot of my job is also about picking up hints that something isn’t quite right. When I was in Europe last week, I met with a partner that I’ve known since he was a very young associate. While talking I just didn’t like the vibes. I’ve learned enough after 12 years in management to go on vibes. He was less upbeat, he was more concerned about what’s next. I knew he was at that age where many wonder if they should be thinking about doing something else. So I made a conscious effort to steer some client work in his direction. These are only things you can pick up by talking to someone directly, and that’s why personal interaction in my job is so important. I joined the Metropolitan Club recently, which is my only acknowledgement that I’m an adult. It’s a block away, which is really good in my job because it gets me out. People like going. I’ll take partners and clients there. I grew up eating raw steaks and drinking Jack Daniel’s on the rocks. That’s me.
ROGER WARIN Managing Partner, Steptoe & Johnson You have to enjoy a frenetic lifestyle. If you like to kick back and suck on mint juleps, this might not be for you. My wife jokes that I divide my time between managing the firm and my practice between 100 percent and 100 percent. My average day at the office is from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. And when I’m in trial, it’s nearly a 24/7 job. I spend about 1,500 hours a year practicing law and an equal amount of time running the firm. I get up between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m., and the first thing I do is look at my BlackBerry. I’ll fire off e-mails before anything else. And that’s true at least six days a week. Sometimes seven. Next week I’m having lunch with a client. Then I’m flying that afternoon to Cleveland for a managing partner round-table at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The following morning I’ll be back in town to file a brief at the Federal Court of Appeals. All of that back and forth is more average than extraordinary. The first few years I was spending too much time putting out brush fires before they would become a forest fire. So we re-jiggered the vice-chair, who is Phil Malet, of the firm to serve as the day-to-day firm manager. One of his jobs is to try and make sure my management time is used on the most important firm issues. More of the mundane stuff he looks after. My big challenge is that if I’m in trial, then I’m working on that case 20 hours a day. That’s why Phil is so crucial. I’ve never been, nor will I ever be, into either fitness or health. Ten years ago I was running for a plane and began to get what I thought was indigestion. Around the same time I was representing a doctor and she showed up at my office to draw my blood. A few weeks later, I had bypass surgery. I dodged a bullet. It changed my dietary habits. Now I’m eating better. But as far as changing my lifestyle, no. I’m too Type A. I’m still a strong believer in one particular drug: Diet Coke. I have between six to 12 a day. I have an advantage, having been here for 35 years, that I don’t have to get to know many of the people here. I already know them. I have an open-door policy. My challenge is getting people to go to practice heads and other people who can fix problems instead of coming directly to the top. During the year I try to sit down with every partner to take their temperature: How’s your practice doing? How are you doing? What can we do to help you? How am I screwing up? It’s really crucial that people feel part of the business. I want my partners to still feel like owners. That gets harder as law firms get bigger. This is all about managing personalities. One of my predecessors was spectacular at backslapping. I probably send out 15 e-mails a week congratulating people specifically on things they’ve done. I know when I was much younger, and I saw the managing partner take a minute, it really went a long way. So that’s a message I’ve tried to carry over. Thank God for e-mails. Laterals are an issue that I’m regularly dealing with. Probably a week doesn’t go by that I don’t meet with a few laterals here or in another city. Lunches, dinners, phone conversations. It never ends. That’s a big change from just a few years ago. We get a printout of the hours that each lawyer bills every month. I don’t look at that on a lawyer-by-lawyer basis. I’m more concerned about the practice group numbers and the office numbers. I’m depending on the practice group leaders to get more into the individual production of the lawyers in their group. About 10 percent of the conflicts our firm has are sufficiently challenging to bubble up to my level. So a couple times a month I’ll have to get involved. They are a constant challenge, because they require so much time and attention. My day is pretty well micromanaged hour-to-hour. But it also has to remain flexible. When a client makes a call, I have to take it. If a client has a conflict, then I have to move things to give it attention. Or an unexpected motion in a case gets filed. So however carefully planned my day is, it’s a wish and prayer that it works out that way. I’m a night owl. It’s harder for me to get up than stay up and get stuff done. I’ll get four to five hours sleep at most. Frequently I’m up at 2 a.m. working.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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