“It’s a hornets’ nest with respect to compensation, so rather than deal with it, a lot of firms say, ‘Thank you very much � we hope you enjoy the prestige and power, but we’re going to pay you the same way we compensate other partners,’” Tice-Wallner, a former chairwoman of Littler Mendelson, said.
Littler’s Hill noted that, when firms do significantly compensate office management, it can cause bad blood among lawyers in the office.
“I put in a lot of time that’s not really compensated by the firm, but on the other hand, you have firms where it’s done to an unhealthy degree,” he said. “That can breed resentment among lawyers � we avoid that here.”
STAYING THE COURSE
While practice group and firm leaders tend to set the direction and push for growth, managing a single office is more about maintaining stability, says Larry Richard, a leadership-development consultant with Hildebrandt International in Philadelphia.
“If every day I come into the office and I ask, ‘How is everything?’ and people say, ‘Nothing out of the ordinary,’ I heave a sigh of relief and say I’m doing my job [as office managing partner] well,” Richard said. “Whereas leadership is about change, ferment and uncertainty � it’s not about making the trains run on time.”
Heller’s Hayden, 53, said he used to oversee associate assignments and reviews. He also used to have the final say over adjusting and reducing bills for clients. Now all that is left to practice group management.
“What’s left of the job is being sort of the cultural leader both internally and externally,” Hayden said.
Exactly how the office managing partner’s role plays out depends on whether that office is new, newly combined or well-established. Kellerman came to Morgan Lewis to build an entirely new office for the firm in Silicon Valley with the pieces of his old firm, Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, in 2003. That meant an emphasis on client pitches, recruiting, and generally raising the firm’s profile in the Valley.
|Complain, Complain, Complain
With the promise of anonymity, office managing partners listed the things they wish they could get from higher manage-ment.
MoFo’s Kuwayti, 42, who heads an office that’s been around since 1985, described his job, in part, as facilitating the work environment. “Helping people to get what they need for the firm and helping to implement those policies that the firm has,” Kuwayti said.
At many firms the role has been curtailed because more focus has been put on practice groups.
“I think that’s important,” said Paul Glad, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal’s longtime San Francisco office managing partner, “but I think that nothing can replace on-site management and being able to act quickly on opportunities.”
PAIN, YES. GAIN? MAYBE.
In the survey, most office managing partners said they practice about three-quarters of the time and manage for a quarter. Robert Mittelstaedt, who heads Jones Day’s San Francisco office, reported the highest percentage of time devoted to practice: 95 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, some who have multiple management roles, on top of heading an office, practice less than half the time.
The tension between managing and lawyering was a common theme among those surveyed, but only 14 percent said it hurt their practices; 38 percent said it didn’t affect their practices; and 48 percent said it actually helped their practices. Even those who said their practice has suffered weren’t necessarily in a panic.
“Sure, it’s hurt my practice some,” wrote one office managing partner. “I can’t bill as much time as I used to, and therefore have a less direct role in litigating matters. It will obviously take some time to reload, but I don’t expect a prolonged recovery.”
Office managing partners consistently list cutting billable hours requirements as a huge factor in making the position work.
“It takes some of the pressure off,” said Sonnenschein’s Glad. The 57-year-old rainmaker said he bills about 1,500 client hours a year � the partner requirement is 1,950 � and spends 800 or more hours on management, which includes heading the office and sitting on firmwide policy and planning committee.
And then there are the upsides to running the office.
“It’s helped in the sense I see more opportunities because I am a known quantity with the rest of the firm,” one new office managing partner said.
“It’s definitely helped. Clients know when you run a business, you become more attuned to a business like theirs,” said Charles Birenbaum, who heads Winston & Strawn’s San Francisco office And there’s the ability to bond over shared miseries.
“My clients sometimes share the pains and challenges of management,” he said.