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This month we look at Am Law 200 firms as though they were publicly traded stocks. We offer an index to both blue-chip and growth companiesbased on firm performance since 2002. We recognize the fantasy element here: There is no foreseeable prospect of investor-owned law firms in the United States. However, these five-year charts may prove valuable to current shareholders-the partners of The Am Law 200-and those who aspire to join them. It turns out that some firms are better managed toward consistent high-level return or consistent growth than others. A few scored well on both measures. Talk of going public, which continues in Britain and Australia, is part of a larger conversation going on at and about the major firms. The broad question: Are firms turning corporate in all but name? To put it more bluntly: What does it mean to be a partner now? These are big topics, and we will return to them frequently. As a reader’s guide to the discussion, I suggest that we all start with a valuable new collection of essays just published by Oxford University Press. Managing the Modern Law Firm, edited by Oxford business school lecturer and former investment banker Laura Empson, raises many of the issues that have threatened to turn annual firm meetings into moments of spontaneous combustion. As Harvard Business School professor Jack Garbarro writes in the introduction: “As law firms become large and/or global, they have to develop into . . . ‘ambidextrous organizations.’ In other words, they have to manage themselves on the ground using most aspects of the stratified apprenticeship model while simultaneously managing themselves at the firmwide level using aspects of the corporate model. It is not easy . . . as evidenced by the fact that there are so few world-class law firms that are either large or truly global, or both.” (Question: Would your firm make Jack’s short list of world-class firms? You can answer by e-mail: [email protected] .) In one of her chapters, Empson addresses “the special nature of partnership” and its chances for survival. She’s guardedly optimistic. English law firms, her subject, haven’t followed the accounting firms, investment banks, and consulting firms that began abandoning partnerships in the 1980s. Regulatory restrictions-now falling-stopped law firms from following, as did the clear preference of the partners. Their choice was based not so much on ownership interests or potential liability but rather on the “partnership ethos.” Whether partners in her interviews equated themselves with The Three Musketeers or the English knights at Agincourt, they felt bound, emotionally bound, by a common set of values, goals, and training that they carried into their practices. That ethos needs protection. As the firms grow-flocks of laterals arrive, name tags emerge at partner meetings-the ethos will inevitably face challenges. Curiously, Empson points to the managers, rather than the partners, as the protectors of the firm’s special attitude. The leaders will help create explicit standards for selecting and “socializing” the new partners, lest the ethos be lost. Also, in Britain, it will fall to the senior partner (in the United States, an executive or oversight committee) to review the work and decisions of the firm leader to ensure that the ethos is not flouted or diluted. Ethos is fragile, and it’s challenged not just by external forces. When Shakespeare’s Henry V famously salutes his “band of brothers” just before the Battle of Agincourt begins, he doesn’t say: For he today who sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother Unless he be so vile that his practice Slips; And we must force him to leave. More on this anon. Meanwhile, check out the book.

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