Firm Name: Dilworth Paxson LLP
Firm Leader: Ajay Raju, Chairman and CEO
Locations: Philadelphia; Wilmington, Delaware; New York; Princeton, New Jersey; Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Practice Areas: Full-service
Governance structure and compensation model: Strategic oversight and long-term decision making are in the hands of our executive committee, whereas our senior leadership team oversees the day-to-day governance of the firm. We are now in the process of developing a merit-based compensation structure that places much greater emphasis on our colleagues’ competencies and contributions to the financial performance and vitality of the firm and the strength of our relationships with clients, than on lock-step system based on years in practice.
Do you offer alternative fee arrangements? Our fee arrangements are an exercise in partnership with our clients. We don’t impose a fee regime on our clients; rather we arrive at fee arrangements jointly with our clients, rooted in a shared understanding of the value they expect to receive and that we aim to deliver.
**The following answers were provided by Raju.**
What do you view as the two biggest opportunities for your firm, and what are the two biggest threats?
One of our biggest threats is also one of our most compelling opportunities, and that’s the future itself; the pace of innovation is accelerating at a rate we haven’t seen since the onset of the industrial revolution, and the fact is that no business worth its salt can stay living in the past. These days, it’s not even enough to be living in the present. The biggest source of disruption bearing down on us is the widespread implementation of narrow artificial intelligence. We’re going to see every aspect of industry, commerce and society reshaped by AI. Entire sectors will be turned upside-down and there isn’t a single category of job or profession that won’t be impacted dramatically—lawyers and law firms are not an exception. If we can see what’s coming around the bend, that’s a good first step. The second step is the critical one, and that’s embracing change, adopting and adapting to the technology, and earning the pole position at the front of the pack.
Our other biggest threat is the risk of falling short in our commitment to be an institution of counsel. It’s a commitment that sets us apart, but it comes with a certain psychic toll. The challenge is to dedicate ourselves wholly to the client without sacrificing ourselves—our personal and family relationships, our individual passions, personalities and identities—in the process. On the one hand, we recognize how technology and innovation are completely re-inventing the way business is done and we embrace that reality, but on the other hand, we can’t fully serve our clients or respect ourselves if we lose touch with the human element.
The legal market is so competitive now—what trends do you see, and has anything, including alternative service providers, altered your approach? Is your chief competition other mid-market firms, or is your firm competing against big firms for the same work?
We compete against other firms, both mid-market and large, but again, we’re not competing against our peers so much as we are against the accelerating timeline of technological change. In the short term, winning the competition means approaching this inevitability with an open mind, an absence of prejudice, and a complete willingness to jettison every archaic tradition, ritual and habit associated with conventional law firms since time immemorial. In the immediate term, our imperative is to be nimble, flexible and adaptable. We do this, and have done this, by developing new models for revenue generation and for client service, expanding not just the scope but the nature of our value proposition.
There is much debate around how law firms can foster the next generation of legal talent. What advantages and disadvantages do midsize firms have in attracting and retaining young lawyers, particularly millennials?
Millennials have a much more acute sense of the cataclysmic technological change on the horizon than do people of my age cohort. And in that respect, the size of a firm is irrelevant. What’s already becoming increasingly important is that firms anticipate and evolve according to these coming changes, to re-imagine what a law firm can be in the 21st century, and to integrate these new technologies and paradigms. Talented millennial lawyers will be attracted to firms that are at the vanguard of this cataclysm. It’s incumbent upon us to welcome the insights that come from the imagination and vision of our younger colleagues who already have a native fluency in the technological idioms that define commercial and social relationships. To that end, we find ways to create opportunities for the next generation to take a hand at the helm early on, for by example, by elevating a number of especially keen younger lawyers to partnership status and bucking that traditional seven or eight year threshold that just seems to be an archaic impediment to leadership.
Does your firm employ any nonlawyer professionals in high-level positions (e.g. COO, business development officer, chief strategy officer, etc.)? If so, why is it advantageous to have a nonlawyer in that role? If not, have you considered hiring any?
We do have several non-legal personnel who help lead the firm, but more interestingly, we’ve incorporated a council model into our strategic initiatives. The individuals who provide guidance in this capacity don’t have an ownership stake in the firm or even an official role, but they’re business and civic leaders who share Dilworth’s ideals, and who see value help to advance our identity as an institution of counsel.
What would you say is the most innovative thing your firm has done recently, whether it be technology advancements, internal operations, how you work with clients, etc.?
Recently, we’ve accelerated our focus on being advisors, lookouts and vested partners with the industries we serve. For several clients, we’re embedded as strategic partners, funding facilitators, collaborators. And it’s in keeping with that spirit that we’ve incubated, among other things, a venture fund, a private equity shop and a real estate investment vehicle. As far as I know, we’re one of very few firms that provide 360-degree service that has built out tangible new platforms and portals through which clients can actually grow their businesses.
Does your firm have a succession plan in place? If so, what challenges do you face in trying to execute that plan? If you don’t currently have a plan, is it an issue your firm is thinking about?
For every key position in the firm, we have both a formal and informal succession plan. Of course we identify names of colleagues that we see as having the skill and vision to steward strategic initiatives. But just as importantly, we’re constantly interrogating and re-examining the qualities we believe are critical to sound leadership in an ever-changing landscape. We think about longevity and sustainability in everything we do, and our mentoring initiatives, whether internal or external, are designed to test, train and prepare our next generation of leaders.