For managing partners overseeing multiple offices scattered throughout the country, nothing in the practice of law could be as difficult as keeping everyone feeling important, informed, and involved.
Perhaps relationship marketing applies to the internal management of a law firm rather than the attentiveness to clientele.
Gerry Riskin, co-founder and president of Edge International, a management consulting firm, believes that part of the disconnection experienced by outer office lawyers stems from the way firms are versioned.
"Most multi-office firms are run as if each office were a separate firm, thereby missing the benefit of having the geographical spread in the first place," Riskin stated. This is the reason why most lawyers have no idea what their counterparts are doing in other locations or practice groups, he said.
Is it realistic for the mega law firm to possess a "one firm" mentality, complete with cohesion between lawyers, practice groups, and geographic locations? Riskin feels that harmony is quite possible, but it requires constant work on behalf of management.
"[Unity] requires communication, communication, and more communication," he began. "It helps if technology supports the initiative, such as video conferencing, for example. There must be a continuous effort to ensure that individuals in various offices are not orphaned by the groups that should include them in discussions, deliberations, files, and matters.
"The point is this: if you take your foot off the accelerator, the firm goes into the separate office ditch – gravity pulls you away from being one firm."
For a firm to stay in "one" mode, managers must be accessible by planes, trains, automobiles, e-mail, and cellular telephones.
Riskin suggests that CEOs and administrators visit each office location every quarter of the year, spending time getting to know attorneys and staff members through face-to-face visits. He acknowledged the success of Jack Welch of General Electric, who was known for remembering the full names of the company's top 1,000 employees. Presence is a necessity, even in a law firm hierarchy.
Some firms house practices in cities or countries so far apart that managers can't make office visits as regularly or easily as others can. Riskin fears this type of physical absence is life threatening to the firm as a whole. The "us versus them" hostility is the mood that fuels law firm break-offs and splits.
"It is management's job to prevent this," Riskin continued. "This is the biggest detriment to a firm. Similarly, lawyer rivalry is exacerbated by differences in offices," he said, citing communication challenges as the master malfunction.
What part does marketing play in law firm management? The consultant argues that internal firm development leaders are perfectly positioned to maintain multi-office contentment.
"A marketing director must serve as a catalyst to encourage the executives to ignore geographical locations when managing practice and industry groups. There is a role for office managing partners, but it should be limited."
Riskin explained that marketing should be designed as an in-house, professional service agency within a firm. Just like the duties of a managing partner or CEO, one person in a multi-office setting can coordinate the marketing component, as long as the individual relinquishes some control through the delegation of tasks. To satisfy outer office lawyers, the marketing director must create a virtual department, meaning each location feels supported and represented by business developers and technicians from afar.
Which law firms in the country are examples of multi-office masterpieces? Riskin refused to name specific firms, but he did provide a hint as to what to look for when analyzing the market.
"Look at the firms that are consistent, stable, and profitable. The firms that are adding locations at the same time will identify themselves."
Brown is a legal marketing executive who also manages a writing agency in Charleston.