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Abrams: Do You Really Want To Manage The Firm?

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jeff abrams ibaIt was 1998 when David Kleiman and Phil Pecar, two senior partners and mentors posed the question, “Will you take over management of the firm?” I had been practicing 17 years, had developed a nice book of business and felt like my career was starting to progress nicely. I had developed many friends who were clients, and I enjoyed practicing law with all of my clients. The firm had been incredibly successful through the 80’s and the 90’s with little management oversight as a result of the significant work that was being generated by the lawyers. Profits continued to increase and everybody was relatively happy. I told them that I was truly honored that they had chosen me for this position and to succeed Phil Pecar who had managed the firm for many, many years. I also told them I really needed to talk with my wife (always a smart move any time a major decision is being considered) and I would let them know in the next couple of days.

I went home and spoke to my wife who was very excited about me taking on this responsibility. She felt it was an honor to have been selected by the senior partners and that I should absolutely take on the challenge. I told her that it could require more time at the office and she was perfectly willing to accept that (and I think may have even been happy with it).

A couple of days later I told them that I appreciated the opportunity and welcomed the responsibility. I then started reading articles about managing a firm since I had never been trained to do it nor did I really have any idea how to do it. One thing I did know was how to treat people. Be kind and respectful at all times. I learned that with kindness, you would receive a strong work ethic. I tried to occasionally meet with lawyers and staff to understand how things were going and if there was anything I could do to help. I encouraged young associates to get out in the community, meet people and try to enjoy the practice of law as I had been able to do.

During the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the firm continued to prosper and managing it had very few setbacks. One challenge I vividly recall was that one of the senior partners who was a brilliant attorney and an outstanding writer would never let go of administrative work. He never delegated any administrative responsibilities, always wanting to finalize whatever writings we were providing or discussions we were to have, but rarely finding the time. Unfortunately, after they asked me to be president of the firm, he continued his ways making my life much more difficult since he always wanted to review whatever I was doing. Out of deference and admiration, I would always provide him work product I was working on, whether it included press releases, ideas to improve operations or other similar ideas. However, things continued to sit unaddressed and I was reluctant to move forward without his blessings. Lawyers and staff were asking me why wasn’t something done or where are we with certain plans. It was very frustrating.

At that point in time, I went back to the two senior partners and told them that I really appreciated the confidence they had in me but since one of them was unwilling to let me do the job, I did not feel that I should continue as President. I reminded them that I never applied for the job, never asked for the job or even volunteered for it. They had asked me to do it, and I said I would, but they needed to let me do it.

Twenty-four hours later, they called me back into the office. One admitted that he still tried to do too many things the way he had done them, but I would not have that problem anymore. He was true to his word, and I was able to move things along in an orderly fashion and, most importantly, timely for the benefit of the Firm.

One of the biggest challenges that I encountered was in the fall of 2007. I was incoming President of the Indianapolis Bar Foundation for 2008, and began meeting with managing partners of other firms to solicit more financial support for the IBF. I was very fortunate to have a significant number of friends in management roles and they were always willing to assist me in response to my requests for stronger financial support. However, as one learns if you ask somebody for money and they acquiesce in your request, just be ready for their return request somewhere in the future—and in one person’s situation, continuing and continuing requests. I believe my law school professor called it Quid Pro Quo.

During a couple of those discussions, two local firms asked me if we would consider a merger. I had never really thought about it, the firm had continued to grow at a manageable rate, profits continued to increase and we were doing well overall. Nonetheless, I felt a responsibility to our partners and our young lawyers to pose the question among our executive committee and ultimately to the partners. There were some benefits of considering being larger, so we asked a consultant to evaluate both firms. Unfortunately, when you try to merge with a local firm and you have strong litigation departments, conflicts of interests in common cases are routine. These firms were no different, so we had to pass. On the heels of understanding those problems, we had a couple of out-of-state firms reach out to us but neither of which really made any sense. It was about that time that we learned of Benesch and the potential for an integration. We spent approximately six months evaluating the numbers and the clients to determine if two and two could make five and we concluded that it could. We spent another six months getting to know the people at each firm to be sure that our philosophies on client service, staff appreciation and life in general were consistent. We concluded they were and after almost one year of discussions and negotiations, we held a vote among our partners and while the vote was not unanimous, it was substantial to integrate with Benesch, and rest is history.

So for all of you reading this article, if at some point in time you are asked to take over the helm of your firm, please consider it carefully, understanding the increased responsibilities but cherishing the opportunity if it is right for you. I am glad that I was given the opportunity to take over the Presidency of our firm and welcomed the opportunity to partner with a great firm when we integrated with Benesch. If you should ever be placed in either positions, please do not hesitate to call me as I will be happy to answer any questions or mentor you in any way I can.•

Being on vacation, these words may not be the best.
I have skied each day needing lots more rest.
Does not provide much time to ponder great thoughts.
The good thing is that I am not sleeping on cots.
Cherish the opportunity to lead your firm.
Do your best and don’t let them see you squirm.
All your attorneys will give you respect and great praise.
But if it does not work, give everyone at the firm a big raise.
 

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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