The role of managing partners in a growing law firm

December 4, 2017

For most Canadian law firms, managing partners rarely hold true executive powers, instead, they rely on the ability to form consensus through personal relationships, all the while being (typically) expected to maintain a full/near-full legal practice.  While time consuming, in my experience as a legal recruitment consultant, the most effective managing partners routinely make a habit of speaking with each lawyer in their firm in a one-on-one setting – ensuring they maintain visibility on the issues facing the firm from a ground perspective.

While this model may prove effective when managing less than 25 lawyers, as this number increases, the complexity of juggling the number of competing interests increases exponentially.  Typically, once a firm exceeds 100 lawyers, the expectation for the managing partner to maintain an independent practice wanes, ironically making large firm leadership more functional given the time the managing partners can dedicate to running their law firm.

In my experience, it is typically the managing partner of firms with 50-100 lawyers, those who are still required to maintain sizeable practices while managing a significant number of lawyers, who face the greatest pressures in their role.  For those firms approaching 50 lawyers, it is important to have a candid conversation amongst the partnership, recognizing your managing partner may not be able to sustain a full practice if the firm’s leadership responsibilities are to be properly attend to.  Similarly, firms approaching 100 lawyers need to recognize the managing partner may require either significant, full-time management support (such as a COO or equivalent) to properly manage the firm and/or a conversation as to whether you may wish to fundamentally revisit their billing responsibilities.

The key here is to understand issues management for law firms given that the relatively flat power structure and dynamic amongst partners at a firm follows a logarithmic growth trajectory as a firm grows, not a linear one.  Taking steps to proactively adjust your leadership structure as your law firm grows to properly reflect this change will position you (and your organization) for continued success in the market.

Consider reaching out to one of our specialist legal recruitment consultants for a confidential discussion today. Our managing partners are experts in law firm strategic planning and have over forty years of combined experience in legal professionals’ recruitment.


Warren Smith, Managing Partner