Please enjoy this co-authored blog post by Kristin Rhodes, Senior Practice Manager, Paul Hastings LLP and Mike Ertel, KM Attorney, Paul Hastings LLP.
A properly implemented practice management program is an arrow in your firm’s quiver that helps maintain efficient and profitable practices. We discussed practice management generally in a previous post (Practice Management: What Is It and Why Do You Need It?), but will now take a deeper dive into the day-to-day practical value it adds to the firm’s partners and employees.
The Benefits of Practice Management to Practice Group Leadership
The practice manager is the right-hand person, or chief of staff, for practice leadership. While the practice leader or chair is ultimately responsible for the strategy of the practice, the practice manager lightens their burden by running the daily operations.
Most practice leaders are top-notch lawyers with a strong book of business. All that billable work doesn’t just go away when they assume a leadership role, instead, they have the additional obligation of running the entire practice group. The practice manager can alleviate that burden, providing leadership with more time to focus on their clients. Furthermore, because the practice manager’s sole job is to be aware of practice needs, they are in a strong position to report up, harmonize initiatives, and make sure things get accomplished.
Overall, the practice manager helps practice leadership by:
- focusing on their objectives,
- executing cohesive strategies,
- providing reports on ground-level tactical needs.
Consider the goal of improving timekeeper productivity. The practice leader may want to improve productivity within the practice, but their attention will be driven by client and other management needs, leaving time to focus on only a few people. The practice manager, however, can weave this goal into their daily tasks by procuring custom and regular reporting, talking with the timekeepers to understand their hours, identifying additional sources of work from around the firm, and setting up additional mentor and other resources as needed.
In fact, a practice manager can often use their non-partner position to their advantage because people tend to open up more easily to those who are not their direct boss and reveal additional issues that feed into low productivity, like a poor manager or bad timekeeping practices. Ideally the practice manager can not only ensure things get done, but actually add-value to the leader’s prerogatives based on their unique position within the practice.
The Benefits of Practice Management to Practice Group Timekeepers
On the most basic level, practice managers help timekeepers stay focused on client work. Any distraction from this work means lost money for the firm. For example, when an associate spends time trying to figure out the right point person in HR for a personal issue, they are inefficiently spending their own time—and the firm’s. A good practice manager helps minimize these types of distractions.
On a daily basis, the practice manager can function like a concierge to the timekeepers, providing them with a central point of contact to get solutions quickly. Because practice managers spend all of their time integrating the firm’s priorities with practice needs, they have a unique view on how to get things done:
- which departments to work with,
- who to contact, and
- which process and method of communication is most efficient.
Thus they can troubleshoot an issue and provide strategic advice. For example, if an associate is looking for more due diligence experience on certain deal work, the practice manager would work with the talent department on relevant training and coordinate with other practice managers and partners to staff them on the relevant projects.
Practice managers can also aggregate these daily concerns and questions from timekeepers into constructive feedback and ideas that they report up to practice leadership with thoughts on new initiatives and tweaks to improve overall morale and performance. Sometimes even the simple act of helping people feel heard and giving a voice to their concerns can be morale-boosting in itself.
A practice manager carries out the business objectives of practice leadership while attending to the needs of the timekeepers. Taken together, this harmonizes issues and facilitates questions so the business of the practice runs efficiently. In addition, they add-value by translating their unique vantage points—steeped in both top and ground-level information—to problem-solve and to create and communicate initiatives.