How to Grow a Law Firm
In 2008, there was a global economic adjustment of historic proportion. While the Great Recession played havoc across all business sectors, in the legal industry it fundamentally changed tenets of client acquisition and retention that had been around for centuries—as a result, many law firms downsized, others de-equitized partners, and still others just went out of business. During that same time, Quarles & Brady opened two offices and scooped up multiple key lateral partners, who have bolstered the firm’s practice offerings and capabilities.
Quarles & Brady defined firm strategic imperatives for growth and drove them through to implementation: adding the right resources to help Quarles mature as a multifaceted firm, including the development of local, regional, and national practices; recruiting laterals in differentiated areas of law; letting the availability of the right talent and the right opportunities dictate potential new office locations; holding tight to the firm’s middle-market wheelhouse; and paying extremely close attention to cultural fit. It was never about selecting a location where the firm would like to operate and opening an office there. The result was improved service capabilities, in areas of strong and/or growing market demand, with the right talent to make Quarles competitive with the biggest firms in the world, able to serve clients in any location. That’s how you capitalize on an economic downturn and reposition your organization for growth and success in a new landscape.
Culture Change, Essential and Terrifying
Quarles & Brady has no interest in quick fixes or short-term gains; the firm is piloting a business that’s built to last. Quarles has been around since 1892 and intends to be going strong in 2092 and beyond. That, of course, necessitates constant change management and a culture that accommodates it. In terms of the legal industry, cultural change means embracing a “one firm, long hallway” culture—treating clients as firm clients, not partner clients, in order to serve all client needs. It also means operating in a fully competitive industry environment, where you’re only as valuable as your latest performance, where impeccable legal representation is only the prerequisite, where efficiency is just as important as productivity, and where knowing your client and providing business-aware counsel are at least as important as knowing your area of law.
As with all endeavors involving human beings, change requires hard discussions, strong interpersonal relationship skills, frequent dialog, a tenacious commitment to align internal and external values, and a sincere willingness to give up comforts and familiarities of your own as well. Quarles & Brady recognizes that the evolution is not complete, but the progress is profound, and the momentum is unstoppable.
Taking Care of Business, Every Day
It makes sense that a corporate services attorney would have a business mindset, but Fred’s business chops go back a lot further than his J.D. — he grew up in a family-owned business, so he has known the joys and challenges of capitalism and free enterprise, in many aspects still new to the legal industry, since he was a child. Concepts like alternative fee arrangements, project management and process efficiency, pricing transparency, internal and external communications, training and retraining, research & development, reliance on hard data, and so forth are engrained habits and protocols in Fred, not new vistas, not new skills sets demanded by the times. A lot of law firms lament having to live in the same competitive environment as their clients do, and having clients demand value and investment in their matters; for Fred, it’s about time.