For some lawyers, it must seem like a big dose of good news/bad news. You’ve done such a great job managing your own practice that the firm wants you to manage your entire practice group. And by the way, don’t slow down your own practice just because you’re now responsible for several dozen other people meeting their goals.
“I never anticipated how much time it would take,” says Linda S. Finley, leader of the Consumer Finance Litigation and Compliance Group at Baker Donelson. “I used to watch other practice group leaders, and they made it seem so effortless. I now realize they were doing so many things behind the scenes.”
No month is the same, but Finley devotes about 60 percent of her time to managing her 40-lawyer group, and she has not downsized her own practice. At the same time, she serves on the firm’s board of directors and she continues to keep an active speaking schedule.
Her formula comes to this: Know what’s expected of you, rely on a stellar staff and be off-the-charts organized.
Metrics Drive Expectations
Every morning, seven days a week, Finley starts her day by looking at the previous day’s metrics for every lawyer in her practice, as well as major clients.
“As a group, and as individuals, we have financial expectations. And it’s up to me to keep us on track for those goals. That’s my job,” she says, “and I make sure that I always know exactly where we stand.”
She describes herself as “very metric driven,” and “while the numbers might not tell the whole story, it’s where I begin my analysis.”
Finley has trained herself to look for patterns and trends and that often alert her to small problems before they mushroom into big difficulties.
The metrics also make the hard conversations easier. “People can see their numbers, so it’s no surprise when we have to talk about tough issues,” she says.
Finley also reaches out to every attorney in her group each week, asking what they did the past week and what they have on their plate for next week.
“That allows me to make sure everyone has enough work to do. Especially with associates, we may have to move work around to keep everyone busy.”
Staff Is Key to Being Organized
There’s a lot of organizational work, and Finley will be the first to tell you that you can’t do it by yourself. The key to being organized, Finley says, is to rely on other people who are good at delivering the details.
“It takes a village,” she says. “A lot of people help me.”
Finley praises the work of two people especially: her assistant, Teta Bacilieri, and managing director Scott Peterson.
Peterson, managing director of the Financial Institutions Department at Baker Donelson, is an Emory MBA with an undergraduate accounting degree. Financial projections, budgeting, forecasting, P&L management—he’s the expert at crunching all the numbers. Finley calls him “indispensable.”
Finley’s other key staff member is Bacilieri, mortgage litigation resources manager. “She has helped me be the most organized I’ve ever been,” Finley says. Bacilieri recently took a much-deserved week off, Finley says, and left her a folder for each day of the week. “I just picked up each day’s folder in the morning and knew exactly what I was supposed to do that day.”
As for her own practice, Finley says “you have to decide what you absolutely, positively, have to do yourself and the rest you push down. It’s hard for lawyers to delegate because we think we can do it better than anyone else, but I’ve learned to trust other people.”
Leverage is a little harder in a litigation practice, but she also knows that “as a partner, one of the things we do is keep other people busy,” she says. While she still goes to court (“I’m a former prosecutor. I love going to court,” she says.), she finds herself more and more managing litigation for her clients by making sure that cases are staffed properly. Delegation is not the same as handing off a case, she adds. “I call my key clients every day.”
Leading a practice group isn’t for everyone, Finley says. Besides being blessed with the organization gene—or at least being smart enough to surround yourself with folks who have that DNA—Finley says you have to genuinely enjoy going in multiple directions.
“I love to practice law,” Finley says. “I love to go to court. But guess what? I also love to manage.”
Robin Hensley is president of Raising the Bar and has coached lawyers in business development for more than 25 years. She is the author of “Raising the Bar: Legendary Rainmakers Share Their Business Development Secrets.”