Are Business Executives the Right Fit for Law Firms?

Posted by Aristea Selmani.

In recent years, the operating role of business executives amid law firms has risen to a new high. Bloomberg law reporter Casey Sullivan, argues in his article Should Business Managers Run Law Firms this mere notion of as to “what degree should business executives oversee operations at law firms as opposed to lawyers who do what they do best — practice the law” (Sullivan). The growing number of business executives present in the field of law, seems particularly peculiar given the fact that a lot of these executives have no previous experience in law practices or simply do not hold any law degrees. Nonetheless, they are still entrusted with the subtle responsibility of “telling lawyers how to manage their work”, when in truth, such a role could be more effectively performed by lawyers who essentially practice law and understand how law firms operate. Throughout this article, Sullivan attempts to incorporate the opinions and thoughts of several business executives, which primarily concern their roles in the department of law.

Sullivan begins his article with an introduction detailing the influence of business executives in one particular law firm by the name of Katten Muchin Rosenman of Chicago. According to the report, this establishment just recently declared that it “has no plans to scale back managerial oversight of its 600-lawyer firm” (Sullivan). On the contrary, they are hiring longtime chief operating officer, Craig Courter to manage the daily operations of their law firm. Sullivan declares that Craig Courter is another addition to the list of business executives who “do not practice law … but are [still] charged with the delicate task” of managing lawyers (Sullivan). Their executive roles span from making small everyday decisions to choosing the right clients for the firms to take on. More explicitly, Sullivan also mentions that at Katten Muchin Rosenman Courter will act as a supervisor of marketing, finance, technology, talent management and human resources.

In another case mentioned throughout this article, chief operating officer of the Americas at White & Case, Victor Núñez, plainly stated that “[he] really didn’t know much about law firms and how they operate,” and never went to law school, but was still charged with the important role of “assessing the profitability of client matters, as well as forming strategy around and executing new office openings” (Sullivan).

Furthermore, in Should Business Managers Run Law Firms, Sullivan cites another business executive who is currently met with skepticism known as John Yoshimura, chief operating officer at McDermott Will & Emery. Yoshimura just recently began to implement a business-development team to help lawyers with their clients, however since the McDermott “partners have been “skeptical” of business development staff handling their client relations”, the new development is still in the planning phase. He did however make a strong case regarding the notion that “doing outreach through business development staff … is more cost effective than having partners do it” (Sullivan). Therefore, on the basis of this aspect, and given the statistic that there is a growing number of law firms in the market, business administration roles could consequently be greatly demanded in the recent future.

Aristea is an undecided business major at the Stillman School of Business, Seton Hall University, Class of 2020.


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