Volume XVI / Number 11 NOVEMBER 2007

(Reprinted with permission of Ardmore Publishing Company)

How to meet, greet, and win respect from a new managing partner

There’s a new sheriff in town. Well, new managing partner anyway. And in most firms, the managing part­ner ascends to the position with scarcely any experi­ence in management, says ROBERT J. HENDER­SON of RJH Consulting, a law firm consulting organi­zation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The job now is to give that new partner confidence in the administrator‘s ability to manage the firm.

It will take several weeks to do that and also to ‘‘get a sense of what the managing partner is comfortable with.” The job requires tact. Also planning.


Start with a meeting to open the line of communication and find out what type of person the administrator is dealing with — maybe a micro-manager, maybe a hands-off, big-picture leader.

Make that first meeting a brief introduction and an opportunity to set another more detailed meeting. Say “I want to be as much help to you as possible, and to do that, I’d like to talk with you soon about what you expect from me. In the meantime I hope I can demon­strate what I can do to help you carry out your job and still practice law.”

That gives the partner the idea that “gee, this person can be of help to me, so let’s look at it with an open mind.”

Then set the second meeting for three or four weeks later.

Why wait? Because it’s essential to show the new partner first-hand what the administrator’s capabilities are, how the firm operates, and also the extent of the management authority the partner can delegate to the administrator.

By the next meeting, the partner will have more trust in the administrator’s capabilities.

He adds that new managing partners also need time to work out what level of management they want to assume. It’s not uncommon for them to start out think­ing they want to practice law and not deal with the operations “only to find out later that they are really interested in the details of management.”


At that first meeting, he prepared to answer some basic questions. Often they include these:

What can we do to improve our billing and collection process?

“That’s always a hot button,” Henderson says. “And rarely is there a firm that can’t make improvements in that area.” Have some suggestions ready.

How can we cut costs?

A lot of managing partners come into the position with the idea that the firm is spending too much money. Yet most administrators are aware that “study after study shows that rarely does the bottom line get improved by cutting costs.”

Don’t hit the managing partner between the eyes with “that’s not going to work.” Be tactful: “let me review the financials and give that some thought.” And then do so before the next meeting. By then, the administrator will have established enough trust to recommend that the firm focus more on increasing revenues than on cutting costs.

is there any way we can reorganize the staff to be more efficient?

That new managing partner may well think the firm is overstaffed or not using staff properly. Instead of agreeing or disagreeing, hedge: “we can look into that.” Then be prepared to discuss it at the next meet­ing.


Throughout the conversation, the one thing not to say is “this is how the previous managing partner and I did such-and-such.” That says the previous partner did things right, and the newcomer needs to follow suit.

What if the managing partner opens the door with “how did you and the previous managing partner oper­ate?”

Tread lightly. Tell how the previous relationship worked, but add a qualifier of “however, I want to do whatever works best for you.”


The second meeting is the time to address the details, and Henderson’s advice is to divide it into three areas.

First, is the office operations. Go in with a written outline of the main aspects of operations – the person­nel, the finances or how the books and the time and billing are managed, and the management of the office, which includes the lease details and the sup­plies and so on.

During the initial period when partner and adminis­trator “are getting comfortable with each other,” there needs to be an understanding of how those main areas are going to be managed.

For each area, outline how the firm has been doing the job, what problems or inefficiencies the adminis­trator has recognized, and suggestions for improvement.

Don’t expect agreement on every suggestion, he says, and it doesn’t matter if there isn’t. The real objective is to give the managing partner confidence in the administrator’s ability to handle the firm’s management.

Second, ask for permission to go over the adminis­trator’s job description. And if there isn’t one, draw one up and have it ready to offer. That job description is the only way to ensure that managing partner and administrator are on the same page as to what the responsibilities are.

Make whatever adjustments the partner wants to see in the description, though hopefully by now there will be a level of trust high enough that the partner doesn’t reduce the power and responsibilities of the adminis­trator’s position.

The third area to cover is how the administrator and managing partner will communicate with one another.

Ask questions such as How often should I report to you? Should I e-mail or call? When is a good time to come into your office? A bad time?

And then a test question on operations such as Do you want to know who’s going to clean the office or do you want me to take care of that? The answer will show just how hands-on the managing partner is going to be.

From there, continue on slowly, Henderson says. Don’t make any drastic changes that “might step on the toes of the managing partner’s perceptions.”

Just keep working on establishing confidence so the new partner comes to rely on the administrator’s judg­ment.