Much of The Alexander Group’s work involves assisting law firms in recruiting executives (many from outside the legal industry) to run their business operations. As law firm administrative talent has become more sophisticated, so has law firm governance structure. Rarely, now, do law firms’ managing partners or chairs maintain robust legal practices. Also, the role of chair or managing partner is not a lifetime assignment as it was in the not so distant past.
Although virtually all AmLaw 100 firms have an executive or management committee that functions like a corporate board of directors, some firms are taking different approaches to the top leadership position of a firm. One approach that is becomingly increasingly popular is for a firm to elect two co-managing partners, or both a chair and a managing partner. One of the co-managing partners or the chair will focus on strategy and external issues, while the other two will focus on assuring that their firms run well. Schulte Roth, Kramer Levin, Kobre & Kim, Sullivan & Cromwell, Mayer Brown and K&L Gates are examples of firms that have adopted this leadership structure.
A Closer Look at K&L Gates
K&L Gates LLP, employs approximately 2,000 lawyers across five continents. It has grown rapidly over the last 20 years through key acquisitions as well as organically. Here is my conversation with K&L Gates Chairman Michael Caccese about the how this governance structure works.
John Lamar: K&L Gates is recognized for its strong operational foundation, culture and governance structure. You serve as the firm’s chairman and Jim Segerdahl serves as managing partner. Both of you and your partners describe this structure as a successful and synergistic partnership between the two of you. Can you talk about how that came about?
Mike Caccese: Prior to March 2017, K&L Gates firm leadership had one person serving in both roles. The Firm’s Management Committee believed for numerous reasons that because of the growth of the firm both geographically and in headcount, along with the complexities of operating a global law firm in the 21st century, the roles of chairman and global managing partner should be separated.
John Lamar: Did you both assume your role at the same time?
Mike Caccese: Jim and I started our roles in March 2017.
John Lamar: Did you have a close working relationship previously?
Mike Caccese: Jim and I had a working relationship for many years although I worked in our Boston office and he is based in our Pittsburgh office. We were both members of the management committee and served as the two Vice Chairmen of the firm prior to 2017, which gave us the opportunity to work closely on firm strategic issues.
John Lamar: How do you divide responsibilities today in your respective roles as chairman and global managing partner?
Mike Caccese: Jim, as the Global Managing Partner, is responsible for the day-to-day management of the law firm and implementing the firm’s strategies established by the Management Committee. My role as Chairman is to work closely with the Management Committee on strategy, ensure that they receive the resources needed to fulfill their duties to the partnership, work closely with Jim on client and industry outreach, and assist Jim in implementing firm strategy.
John Lamar: How often do you communicate?
Mike Caccese: Jim and I communicate almost daily and use each other as sounding boards for addressing firm and industry issues.
John Lamar: How has your relationship and interaction with each other changed since Covid?
Mike Caccese: Since Jim and I assumed our roles our relationship has become very close. Covid has only made it closer, with both of us and the Management Committee addressing the Covid-related unprecedented challenges facing law firms, industry, and clients, few of which are the same across the various markets and geographies in which K&L Gates operates.
John Lamar: Since you had not worked from the same office or practice group previously what did you both do to get the relationship off to such a positive footing?
Mike Caccese: It was not difficult. We both communicated frequently, shared similar visions, and focused on basing decisions on what is the best for the partnership. Communication, respect, transparency, and a common goal enable us to work together seamlessly for the benefit of the partnership.
John Lamar: We are seeing many of our other clients considering dual management roles such as the one you and Jim share. What advice would you offer them?
Mike Caccese: Do not be hesitant to separate the two roles. Running a law firm is very complex, multi-faceted, and takes a team effort. Make sure that the two leaders have excellent communication and listening skills, and both operate towards the same goals. Finally, have the roles well defined and make sure one of the two positions is clearly responsible for the day-to-day running of the law firm. One decision maker, two strategists.