The Bar News

Law Firm Management Committee vs. Full Partnership

Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am a partner in a 14-attorney firm in San Antonio, Texas. We have eight partners and six associates working in the firm. The firm was founded 20 years ago, so we are a first-generation firm. Two of the partners were the founders of the firm and the other six were made partners in later years. Currently our method of governing the firm is handled by the full partnership. While each partner has one vote, we try to manage by consensus. We do not have a managing partner or any committees. We have an office manager who primarily handles the accounting and  staff oversight. The partners meet weekly to discuss issues and make decisions. We are beginning to have issues with our management structure. Partners are not showing up for the weekly meetings and complaining about the amount of time it is taking away from servicing their clients. Should we consider a different approach? We would appreciate your thoughts.

A. You are at a difficult size, still a small partnership but big enough that management by all may no longer be working for you. I believe that you should consider either a managing partner or a management committee of three partners elected by the partnership. For this to work all of the partners must agree to surrender some degree of independence to a managing partner or a management committee. I would start with putting together a list, or job description, for the managing partner or management committee. Partnership agreements often outline management decisions (powers) reserved for the partnership with all decisions handled by the managing partner or management committee. If your partners are unwilling to surrender some degree of independence, then changing to a managing partner or management committee may prove to be wasted effort.
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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, (www.olmsteadassoc.com) is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at jolmstead@olmsteadassoc.com.
 

Posted on April 25, 2018 by Sara Anderson
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Member Comments (1)

When practicing in a firm of about that size, and one that usually sought consensus for decisions, we had a three partner management committee that had authority to organize the meetings and evaluate things that were put to the whole partnership.  It was a very collegial atmosphere and management committee was considered an administrative chore, and a duty, and rotated every year.  We had monthly partner meetings with things in the interim getting done by the management committee.  It wasn't about power, it was about efficiency.

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