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    May 13, 2008  


Join us for lunch with three of America's top General Counsels: Freddie Mac's Bob Bostrom, the Washington Post's Veronica Dillon, and American Capital Strategies' Sam Flax (largest publicly-held private equity firm in the US). Wed, May 28, at Il Mulino in DC. Sign up here. Thanks to great sponsors Studley and IMC.


We’re back for more from our great lunch at Zola, where four illustrious managing partners discussed their secrets to success right next door to the Spy Museum. The cast included:

  • Melissa Glassman of McGuireWoods (Tysons);
  • Cherie Kiser of Cahill Gordon;
  • Mike McManus of Drinker Biddle;
  • Ed Schiff of Sheppard Mullin

And of course our VIP sponsors: John Niehoff, global head of the law firm practice with accountants Beers + Cutler; and Greg McCavera, global law firm group co-chair at Jones Lang LaSalle.


Melissa’s Tysons office is home to 80 of McGuireWoods’s 900 attorneys, some of which came from the  just-completed merger with North Carolina-based Helms Mulliss & Wicker. John’s group provides tax advice to 50 law firms in the DC area.

Bisnow: How do you choose your firm’s leaders, like practice group heads?
Cherie: Historically, I think law firms have put the people who produce the most in the leadership roles. But that person isn’t necessarily the best manager. It’s a different skill—the ability to communicate and make sure there’s the best distribution of work especially among associates, which is also very important for diversity issues.
Mike: I agree 1,000 percent. The person with the most business might not make the best leader. And from an economic point of view, taking someone who produces X, Y and Z and making them a manager diminishes their productivity. We would never recommend that to a client. 

Beyond who you pick for your leaders, do you have other tricks for managing work?

Melissa: We did something institutionally to help even out hours and address this issue of overspecialization. Everyone is required to declare a major and a minor.  My major is litigation for example.  My minor is real estate because I did a lot of real estate litigation.
Cherie: Is there guidance on choosing the minor for associates?

It’s typically what they’re interested in. You have to apply, and then the department chair decides. You can choose two minors, but no more than that because then you just lose focus. Mostly people just choose one minor they have true interest in.

Bisnow: Do you work across offices?
Melissa: Yes, a lot. I might have a case in the Eastern District of Virginia, but I might use an associate in L.A. who just got off a big case and has time. Because of the Internet, it works seamlessly. We’re thrilled. It also helps create the glue that is so important for the firm. 
Bisnow: How much time do you personally budget for management?
Mike: Each of us has a number.  Mine is 10 percent for management.  So if I’m actually spending 600, because we had a merger last year, I’m still expected to bill 2,000 hours.
Ed: Our partners aim for 1,850 billable hours and there’s no percentage budgeted for management time.  It’s just there. It’s all taken into account at the end of the year. We’ve only been in D.C. five years, so there’s a tremendous amount of time and energy spent raising the visibility of the office, considering we’re from California. 
Melissa: One thing I’m trying to do is show associates that being a good citizen of the firm is much more than billable hours. It’s being a good citizen of the community. I think some people come out of law school and say, okay, I’m going to do my 2,000 and go home. But we want associates involved in things they enjoy, being a soccer coach or whatever’s important to them. Because truthfully we don’t want robots. We want people who’ll go out and spread the good word about McGuireWoods. 

I agree, being out in the traffic is really important. Pro bono is a useful tool for that. The DC Bar has an incredible pro bono program for young people to hone their skills and meet other people. 

Ed: We’ve also realized that you need to teach associates how to be a partner. If the associate matures and develops the right way, well then the person is likely to become becomes partner and now what does he do? It’s like someone fresh out of law school. You make him an associate and he says, okay, now what do I do? The same issues with an associate on the threshold of partnership. 
Bisnow: What’s the importance of bonding among your associates?
Mike: Critical.  Absolutely critical.

The Cahill associates wanted their own space, so they created the Associates Lounge. In school there was the teachers lounge, a place just for them. The Associates Lounge is a place just for the associates and it’s quite comfortable. 


Our associates have their own happy hour which is very well attended.  Once a month. 

Bisnow: No partners allowed?
Mike: Well, I hope they wouldn’t throw me out if I showed up, but it’s really meant for them. 
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