The first non-lawyer ever tapped to lead a major U.S. law firm, Scott Green, CEO of Pepper Hamilton, explains to Leaders League his role, his relationships with partners, as well as his strategic vision of law firm management.
Leaders League. What are your key tasks as CEO of Pepper Hamilton ?
Scott Green. As CEO, I am responsible for both the business strategy and the operations of Pepper Hamilton. I work with the chair and the members of the firm’s Executive Committee to execute Pepper’s strategic plan. I am also responsible for the efficiency and effectiveness of the firm’s back office activities, including finance, IT, marketing, HR and business development. It is a broad set of responsibilities. The only thing I am not involved in is the attorneys’ work product. Because I am not a lawyer, I leave all professional responsibility issues, such as conflicts and ethical issues, to Pepper’s managing partner. The quality of work and the performance of individual attorneys is closely managed by the various practice group leaders within the firm.
Leaders League. What kind of relationship do you have with Pepper Hamilton’s partners ?
S. G. I interface regularly with the partners, mainly working with them to ensure that they are busy, and if not, I work with them on strategies for developing new business or additional business from existing clients. I work with them to help them be more effective in their business development efforts. I meet regularly with practice group leaders and departments heads to review the financial results of their practices and the efficiency of their people.
Leaders League. You are speaking about financial efficiency. Should a law firm be run as any other company?
S. G. Yes, and I think there is a growing realization that law firms need to have metrics in place to measure performance, to have financial targets, and to approach business in a more scientific way. Having said that, partnerships are also very different from corporations in that they have a more cooperative management approach. Corporations tend to have a vertical leadership model, managed from the top down, while partnerships are a more horizontal model, with many decision-makers who are on the same level. Attorneys also have a level of professional responsibility that’s very important, but is measured differently. For example, in the United States, we are committed as a firm and as a profession to pro bono work, providing free or low-cost legal services. I assume it is the same in most countries. We accept challenging and sometimes unpopular cases, representing those who cannot defend themselves, or taking on important societal issues. It’s an important part of who we are. We set targets for pro-bono work, as well. It does subtract a bit from the bottom line, but again, it’s a critical public service, and Pepper in particular has been committed to pro bono work throughout its history. So, it is a little bit different from corporate model, where the bottom line is the main focus. We believe we have a much broader responsibility to our communities.
Leaders League. Do you think that naming a CEO is a new trend in the legal profession?
S. G. I am not the only non-lawyer CEO at a law firm. Non-lawyer executives have previously served as the CEO of the Denver-based law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and the San Francisco-based firm Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass. Recruiters say the real hiring trend among law firms is bringing business-minded professionals on board to help manage the organization to promote efficiency and long-term growth.
Leaders League. How are you approaching the issue of managing young lawyers?
S. G. I would say that managing lawyers is a complex task – and one for which lawyers are not always the best-equipped. At Pepper, we place a great deal of emphasis on legal project management, which applies proven, business-focused project management techniques to legal work. This helps Pepper lawyers at all levels. We are also sending some senior lawyers for business school training. For example, our attorneys will attend a Harvard Law School program that is designed to give them the tools to better manage their departments, practice groups, and on some level, the firm as a whole. I believe very strongly in this development program, and I am convinced that law schools do not prepare lawyers for managing people and projects, which are critical functions. Therefore, it’s our responsibility as a firm to help our lawyers become better managers.
Leaders League. You mentioned that Pepper Hamilton has a strategic plan. How important is a strategic plan for a law firm?
S. G. I think all law firms say that they have a strategic plan. But in reality, I don’t think most firms know what a real strategic plan looks like from a business standpoint. “We want to grow” or “We want to expand our global reach” – those are goals. But, that’s not a strategic plan. My definition of a strategic plan is an honest inventory of the firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and a plan for approaching each of those elements in order to achieve your goals and your overall vision. Most law firms are either so focused on lower-level details that they don’t have a big-picture vision, or if they have a vision, they don’t have the right people or the right plan to execute it. Having a strategic plan is great, but how you execute it is critical.