Increasing client pricing pressure, new competition from nontraditional providers, volatility in the demand for M&A work or litigation services — these are just a few of the many challenges with which today's law firms must contend. Additionally, many attorneys struggle to keep up with office efficiencies and changes in technology, such as office space and equipment needs, time and billing systems, data storage and research needs. Yet many firms are doing little to adapt to — let alone anticipate — what are likely to be permanent changes.
Of course, most lawyers are legal experts, not business specialists, and many do not have the time or inclination to overhaul their firm's financial strategy or assume full-time business development duties, let alone internally run their business. That is where a business manager can help.
Wearing Many Hats
Business managers can fill functions both big and small. For example, a business manager might act as a chief operating officer, overseeing your firm's strategic and operational functions, such as the development and implementation of capital and operating expense budgets, business plans, marketing goals and administrative policies.
Or, your business manager might function more as a firm administrator, overseeing departments such as human resources, information technology, accounting and billing and collections. You might also hire a business manager to focus on client relationship issues such as retention and fee negotiations.
If your firm needs to make significant changes to remain competitive, a business manager can boost client development and marketing efforts, or even help restructure the firm. Some large, national firms already have recognized the need for such expertise and expanded accordingly. For example, Baker & McKenzie's North American Business Development Group grew 20% between 2011 and 2014, to more than 40 people, according to Crain's Chicago Business.
Credentials and Experience
If you decide your firm needs a business manager, whom should you look for and where? The answer depends largely on the responsibilities this professional will assume. For a higher-level, strategic role, an MBA or CPA credential generally is desirable, and many successful legal business managers come from accounting, financial and consulting backgrounds. A strictly administrative role, on the other hand, may not require someone with an advanced degree or professional licenses.
Once you have determined the qualities, skills and education level you desire in a candidate, draw up a detailed job description. Network with professional contacts and you may receive viable referrals from firm employees, clients and others in your industry. If not, consider hiring an executive search firm. Many specialize in finding business and marketing talent for law firms.
New Market Realities
Over the next decade, law firms will need to adapt to new market realities and changes in business norms or risk falling behind and losing profitability. A business manager can be critical to helping your firm meet the financial and competitive demands of the 21st century.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.