Gordon Gekko Rules Big Law Firms

GekkoThe one thing we can learn from Mayer Brown's decimation of partners is that what Gordon Gekko said in the movie "Wall Street" governs large law firms: "Greed is Good."

The AmLaw rankings and profits-per-partner statistics count with your firm's rulers. If you are a partner or chief marketing officer, you must focus on these numbers, or risk losing your job.

Learn where your law firm makes its money.  If your practice is not near the top of the list, then you are outside of the firm's long-term "strategy." If you are generating lower profits than the firm average, you will be de-equitized.

It's up to you to learn business development on your own.  With a few exceptions, your colleagues will not help you or train you in business development.  You must spend the money to hire a trainer, attend law firm marketing conferences and get to know the firm's rainmakers.  Learn everything you can. Then write your personal business development plan. Attend marketing Webinars and learn how to target and land a new large business client.

Business development counts more than ever.  To keep your job you must bring in new business and revenue.  If you are a partner who has no clients of your own -- you are at risk.  If you get all your assignments from another partner, or work only on the cases of others, you are deadwood.

Has your practice area gone cold?  See Robert Denney's article "What's Hot and What's Not in the Legal Profession" in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue of the ABA's Law Practice magazine. Woe to you if you are in medical malpractice, consumer bankruptcy, insurance coverage or environmental law.  Learn something new, or else get a cup and start begging by the train station.

Count heads.  If there is one partner for every associate, management will thin the partner ranks. They won't fire those $160,000 associates, because they're money-making machines who are so greedy, they'll suffer being overworked. Further, see which practices have too many partners, because the extras will be given "early retirement."

Also, there is no point in being loyal to your firm.  Today's colleague will be tomorrow's executioner who will vote you out of the firm.  Your partners really do not care about you.  They care about your book of business and whether you are a drag on profits.  If you can get a better-paying partnership, go for it.  Have no hesitation to leave your "colleagues."  They won't miss you.

It's a cruel world out there.

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LawBiz Blog - March 15, 2007 8:13 AM
Tom Collins suggests that many consultants discredit the value of strategic planning. And Larry Bodine bemoans the current business environment of law firms. Law firms have always been seen by those law firms that have grown to the be...
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Ed Poll - March 15, 2007 7:49 AM

Larry, I suspect your comment, as earlier ones, is set forth with a certain amount of nostalgia for the past, or perhaps a degree of bitterness for the reality of economics.

I would offer that today's circumstances really are no different than earlier years; it's just that we are now talking about the economics of the law practice more honestly and more openly.

Patrick Hillman - March 15, 2007 9:42 AM

Woah... not one of your more "feel good" posts, dude. But sometimes a dose of reality is called for. Makes me glad I'm not at a large firm, as it sounds like a completely different job.

Larry Bodine - March 15, 2007 10:06 AM

Ed -- It's not so much nostalgia that I feel. It's the disgust I feel when I read that Chryler has laid off 13,000 employees. That's 13,000 lives ruined and city economies hurt -- all because the company was poorly managed.

thom singer - March 17, 2007 10:08 AM


You are right, lawyers must embrace developing business or their futures are not secure. Most partners think once they have the "P" behind their name that they are forever employed.

Not true anymore. If they are not watching the bottom line they can find themselves in the unemployment line, just like anyone else in any other industry.

It takes time to lean the necessary sales skills (yes, these are skills!) to become a "rainmaker". The longer one waits, the more vulnerable they will become.

Medical Practice Marketing - October 7, 2008 10:13 PM

While your article is about a year and one-half old, most of its points are still well taken (except the bankruptcy condemnation in light of our current economical meltdown). In our practice, which is medical marketing, virtually all of the same lessons you teach apply to big-city hospitals and managed care companies, as well. There is food for thought here for us, too, then.

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