Increasing client pricing pressure, new competition from nontraditional providers and soft demand for litigation services: These are just a few of the many challenges today’s law firms must contend with. Yet many firms are doing little to adapt to — let alone anticipate — what are likely to be permanent changes.
Of course, most lawyers are legal, not business, experts and don’t have the time or inclination to overhaul their firm’s financial strategy or assume full-time business development duties. That’s where a business manager can help.
Wearing many hats
Business managers can fill functions both big and small. For example, a business manager might act as a chief operating officer, overseeing your firm’s strategic and operational functions, such as the development and implementation of capital and operating expense budgets, business plans and administrative policies.
Or, your business manager might function more as an administrator, overseeing departments such as HR, IT and accounting. You might also hire a business manager to focus on client relationship issues such as retention and fee negotiations.
If your firm needs to make significant changes to remain competitive, a business manager can boost client development and marketing efforts — or even help restructure the firm. Some big firms already have recognized the need for such expertise. For example, Baker & McKenzie’s North American business development group grew 20% between 2011 and 2014, to more than 40 people, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.
Credentials and experience
If you decide your firm needs a business manager, whom should you look for? The answer depends largely on the responsibilities this professional will assume. For a higher-level, strategic role, an MBA or CPA credential generally is desirable, and many successful legal business managers come from accounting or financial consulting backgrounds. A strictly administrative role, on the other hand, probably doesn’t require someone with an advanced degree or professional license.
Once you’ve determined the qualities, skills and education level you desire in a candidate, draw up a detailed job description. Get the word out and you may receive viable referrals from clients and other stakeholders. If not, consider hiring an executive search firm. Many specialize in finding business and marketing talent for law firms.
New market realities
Over the next decade, law firms will need to adapt to new market realities and start operating like other types of businesses — or risk going under. A business manager can be critical to helping your firm meet the financial and competitive demands of the 21st century.