by Joel A. Rose

An old proverb states that "Trees begin to die at the top." When a firm finds itself in the midst of a management crisis, the place to begin to search for the source of the problem is at the top of the management hierarchy. This may not be a popular notion. It may not be an easy task. Nevertheless, it is inevitable that the root of the problem will lie within the uppermost reaches of the organizational structure. The purpose is not to find fault or assign blame. The point is that an organization does not simply evolve. It must be built in an orderly and systematic manner. The values that are important to a firm have to be identified, defined, organized and centrally placed. The responsibility for achieving these goals must be keyed to an organizational factor whether this is a committee or an individual, ultimately someone must be responsible. If the components (attorneys) have the necessary energy, talent and drive, and the work that bonds them.

     Following is a suggested checklist for the managing partner to use as a guide in asking him or herself the kind of questions that will assist in revealing whether all the components of the firm are adequately and properly served.


1. Are the firm's methods of internal communication functional?

2. Do all of the attorneys attend meetings, dinners or luncheons? Are they invited?

3. Does the firm utilize announcements or newsletters? Are the attorneys invited to contribute to committee reports?

4. Does the firm hold retreats to disseminate information, or address special topics?

5. Does the firm provide the attorneys with adequate feedback, particularly junior partners and associates?


1. Are the attorneys informed on lines of organizational responsibility?

2. Are they aware of the functions of various committees?

3. Do any of the younger attorneys serve on committees? Does representation on committees reflect all firm members?

4. How is committee membership determined? Who serves on the committees? How are they selected? What is their tenure?

5. How are the departments organized? Are the areas of practice adequately staffed and supervised?

6. Is the firm too bureaucratic? Too departmentalized?

7. Is the administrative staff function supportive of the attorneys needs and requirements?

8. Are legal assistants utilized?

9. Is the secretarial and clerical support staff properly and adequately trained?

10. Is the firm's equipment and office technology up-do-date?

Firm Culture

1. Is the firm a congenial place to work? Are we democratic? Team-spirited?

2. Is the firm humanistic? Are we sensitive to the quality of life, particularly the family life of our attorneys?

3. Have we maximized profits at the expense of quality of life?

4. Are we independent? Innovative? Competitive?

5. Are we too aggressive in our effort to maintain the status quo?

6. Have we grown too fast -- without adequate planning?

7. Does the firm have too many unproductive partners? Not enough experienced lawyers?

8. Is firm leadership adequate and evident in all facets of the organization? Is it accessible to firm members across the line?

Dissemination of Information

1. What kind of information is considered appropriate? Why and how is that determination made? What is circulated and when? How often? By Whom? To Whom? Why not other types?

2. Are all the attorneys aware of the firm's history and projections for long-term growth?

3. Are they cognizant of the firm's plans for the future?

4. Do the attorneys have access to financial data concerning the firm?

5. Are the attorneys fully informed concerning the firm's billing policies?

6. Do the attorneys know the hourly rates of partners and associates, and the policy concerning expenses?

7. Have the attorneys been informed about the income distribution structure regarding partners and associates?

8. Does the firm have an established policy concerning new clients?

9. Is the criteria for accepting and rejecting clients known to all the attorneys?

10. Does the firm have an established criteria for hiring?

11. Does the firm conduct attorneys evaluations on a regular basis? Are the evaluation criteria meaningful? Are attorneys informed of the results?

12. Are the criteria for becoming a partner and/or member of the executive committee known? Are they reviewed on a periodic basis?

13. Has the firm established policies regarding nonbillable activity such as pro bono, bar association, business development and client relations, community activity and firm administration?

14. How are problems within the firm handled? Do the attorneys have recourse or support within the firm? Is a senior partner or mentor available for advice and guidance?

15. Has the firm established policies and procedures regarding administrative matters concerning secretarial and support personnel?

16. How does the firm handle news regarding accession or separation of personnel?

Work Assignment

1. How are work assignments determined? By Whom?

2. Can a young lawyer seek specific types of work? With a particular client? Within a specific area of practice?

3. Does the firm offer a variety of work? Experience with different types of clients? Experience with different partners?

4. Who does the attorney turn to when, or if, there is a problem or a complaint regarding workload or work assignment?

5. At what stage can a lawyer become a specialist in a department? Does the firm have adequate mobility to handle individual client needs? Shifts in legal trends as they may affect the areas of practice?

Continuing Legal Education, Bar & Community Activity

1. Is there a coordinated program? For the firm? By department? By subdivisions within a department?

2. Who makes the decisions concerning CLE attendance?

3. Is there an annual, or other, limitation regarding attendance at meetings? Expenses for the lawyer? Spouse?

4. Are CLE and bar activities related to long-range plans? The firm? Department? Subdivision or department? Individual?

5. Does the firm conduct internal seminars? How are they developed? Who provides them? Who attends?

6. Are community activities guided in any way? Are they encouraged?

Planning, Decision Making & Practice Development

1. Do the attorneys participate in decision making?

2. Are the attorneys involved in the billing process, particularly the individuals responsible for the client and for performing work on client matters?

3. Are the attorneys views and input encouraged? Tolerated? Considered inappropriate?

4. Are decisions effectively communicated? Are they understood? Is there an open door for constructive dialogue?

5. What is the extent of attorneys' participation in meetings? Firm social functions?

6. Are the attorneys informed about events and planning regarding the number of associates or paralegals to be hired? Department expansion or contraction? Major or interesting new matters? Honors or appointments? New space? Long-range plans? Office automation or reorganization?

7. Does the firm have an ongoing program for practice development? Are the attorneys involved in these activities?

8. Does the firm advocate and encourage cross-selling of services of its departments? Are the attorneys aware of one another's expertise in various practice areas?

9. Does the firm sponsor activities to enhance its image among clients, the public, the Bar, etc.?


1. How are draws and salaries determined? Bonuses?

2. What criteria are used to evaluate a lawyers's total contribution?

3. Do the attorneys have any say in determination of criteria? What they feel they are worth?

4. Are attorneys satisfied with the process for allocating profits?

Social & Attitudinal Changes

Are the attorneys' expectations regarding the practice of law different from those held ten years ago? Consider how these expectations may have changed in regard to:

1. Hours of work

2. Specialization

3. Subject matter of work

4. Income

5. Risk and independence

6. Ethics

7. Decision making -- Desire to know the reasons. Desire to participate.

Consider how the social, educational and economic backgrounds of the newer crop of attorneys may have changed over the past ten years, and how these changes may be reflected in:

1. Attitudes

2. Expectations

3. Needs

Ultimately these changes will be reflected in the firm's:

1. Recruiting activities

2. Turnover

3. Work product

4. Fields of law

Thus, we come full circle to the work that binds and unifies the various components of the firm, namely, the attorneys. The prudent managing partner will recognize the need to chart a course that mediates between the requirements of the practice of law and the needs of those who perform the work.

©1999-2017 Joel A. Rose & Associates