For today’s feature article (Post 123), I am pleased to introduce, Tim Mohan, Chief Executive Partner of Chapman and Cutler, an AmLaw 200 focused on financial institutions and financial services companies.
I met Tim more than a decade ago because he was one of the few law firm leaders who regularly attended programs on law firm management. More often than not, Tim was there as an attendee rather than a speaker, quietly collecting data points to help him understand the market and formulate a strategy that could help his firm succeed. As I got to know Tim, I discovered that he was avid reader of books on business, strategy and decision making. When I asked about his views on law firm management, I was more likely to hear questions rather than strongly held views. When I did managed to get his views, there were invariably loosely held and, to the extent possible, rooted in some type of data.
A couple of years ago, I asked Tim to plot Chapman and Cutler within Bruce MacEwen’s taxonomy of large corporate law firms. See MacEwen, A New Taxonomy: The Seven Law Firms Business Model (2014). Knowing instantly what I was talking about, Tim replied that his firm fell into the “Integrated Focus” group with aspirations to someday become a “Category Killer.” As Bruce MacEwen would point out, a large proportion of the AmLaw 200 continues to plod along in the Hollow Middle.
Tim Mohan was also the first managing partner I met who grasped the Cravath System for what’s its name implied — a system rooted in a clear-eyed view of client need and lawyer development that enabled and reinforced a virtuous cycle of benefits and business outcomes. See Robert T. Swaine, The Cravath Firm and Its Predecessors 1819-1948 (1948) at Vol II, pp. 1-12. Once the Cravath System is understood as a carefully constructed system calibrated to a particular set of economic conditions (too much corporate law work, not enough skilled and specialized talent), it’s possible to update and recalibrate the system to fit a different set of market conditions, such as the those prevailing today. Cf. Henderson, “Talent Systems for Law Firms,” PD Quarterly (Feb. 2017) (discussing possible ways to update the original Cravath System).
In Post 123, Tim discusses the Finance Law Development Program, which is a key element of a “Chapman System” that Tim and his colleagues designed for the development for Chapman and Cutler lawyers and future partners. For over a year, I’ve suggested to Tim that he share these ideas (and now preliminary results) with his industry peers. My persistence finally resulted in today’s post. Thus, as editor of Legal Evolution, I am extremely proud to be publishing one of the first significant updates to a hallowed 100-year old law firm business model.