Photo of Patrick McKenna

Patrick J. McKenna is an internationally recognized author, lecturer, strategist, and seasoned advisor to the leaders of premier law firms.  A prolific writer on the challenges of firm leadership, he is the author or co-author of twelve books including international business bestseller First Among Equals: How To Manage A Group of Professionals with David Maister (The Free Press) and most recently Industry Specialization: Making Competitors Irrelevant (Legal Business World, 2022).  He has worked with at least one of the top ten largest law firms in each of over a dozen different countries.


A checklist that, if done in order, actually works.


How do you ensure task completion when important projects need to get implemented, when partners seem to have agreed to participate and do their bit, but when you are not really certain that you are going to get committed follow through?

It’s been an old joke within law firms that if a partner has a deadline for producing some task by this coming Friday, when are they most likely to start on it?  And you know the punchline.

Whether it’s in a practice or industry group setting, around the table with the members of your Strategic Planning Committee, or wherever you happened to be working with your fellow colleagues, this seems to be one of the most common challenges and greatest frustrations that I hear about from leaders at every level within firms.  And perhaps worse, the most common excuse seems to be, “I had a client emergency arise.”  And of course, a client excuse trumps everything!
Continue Reading Ensuring follow-through on partner promises (329)


Examples of ‘Rules of Engagement’ that produce results.


[Editor’s note:  Legal Evolution is pleased to announce that Patrick McKenna has agreed to join Legal Evolution as a regular contributor.  Patrick fills a large gap in our coverage—the daunting challenges of leading and managing in a law firm.  As illustrated by Patrick’s earlier posts, see Post 305 (the perils of shared leadership) and Post 318 (most common pitfalls of law firm leadership training), there is no good substitute for experience and observation. Thus, we are very grateful that Patrick has agreed to share his 40+ years of wisdom. For an introduction to Patrick’s career and writing, see Post 304. wdh]


Whether working with a practice/industry team, an executive committee/elected board, or the members of some firm’s strategic planning working group, I continue to be struck by the dysfunctional behavior that is often present.  For example, how does one deal with the situation where all of your fellow Executive Committee members engage in a lengthy meeting to discuss a challenging, somewhat controversial situation and finally make a decision — only then to discover that following the conclusion of this meeting, a couple of your colleagues were quietly telling partners in the hallways what the group had decided to do, but that they were not in favor of that particular course of action?
Continue Reading The highest performing teams have rules (323)


One of BigLaw’s biggest pain points is fixable.


There are few people out there with bad intentions, but there are firm leaders with bad habits.  I recently spent an hour on a call with the managing partner of an AmLaw 200 firm who was seeking my advice on succession planning and specifically with their practice and industry group leaders, many of whom were very senior and had been in the role for well over a decade.  I began our discussion by asking five very basic questions:

  1. Do these group leaders have a formal, written job description?  Answer: “No.”
  2. Do these leaders have a clear understanding of precisely how many non-billable hours they are expected to spend leading and managing the people on their teams?  Answer: “No.”
  3. Have you provided these team leaders with any organized leadership training within the past three years, to help them enhance their individual performance?  Answer: “No.”
  4. Have these leaders been provided with any written expectations (e.g., you must, as a group, meet at least once per month) of what your firm’s leadership is expecting them to do with their teams?  Answer: “No.”
  5. Do you, as the firm leader, meet with all of your team leaders to have them share and discuss their particular problems and successes with each other, at least once quarterly?  Answer: “No.”


Continue Reading Where leadership training falls short (318)


The perceived pluses are numerous and easy to spot. In contrast, the risks are more subtle and potentially fatal.


Interestingly, there is a pronounced trend toward firms adopting a shared leadership model, with perhaps the most recent example being the elite litigation firm of Quinn Emanuel.  See Karen Sloan, “Litigation giant Quinn Emanuel beefs up leadership, elevating DC, NY partners,” Reuters, May 13, 2022 (noting that 900+ lawyer firm “has shaken up its leadership model, installing two prominent litigators as co-managing partners and shifting namesake Los Angeles-based founder John Quinn from sole managing partner to the newly created role of chairman”).

If your firm has potential office, group (e.g. “our Global Litigation Practice”), or firm leadership candidates who would be great in the role but are reluctant to give up any of their client responsibilities, the notion of having co-leaders may be an attractive alternative.

Some will advance a number of highly rational arguments for having two co-leaders:
Continue Reading Sharing law firm leadership: NOT for the faint of heart (305)