Just as the law firm’s clients did during the recession, the firm needed to examine its structure and change accordingly to become more flexible and respond quicker to clients’ legal issues, Managing Partner Larry Murphy said.
The retirement of Varnum’s practice administrator last spring “gave us the opportunity to take a look at how we manage ourselves,” Murphy said.
The firm took the chance to reflect on whether its internal structure was aligned “in a way that allows us to provide our services externally as efficiently and as cost-effective as possible,” he said.
That process resulted in breaking up the practice administration duties for a new structure where three partners each focus on a specific management function.
“With our clients becoming more specialized in terms of delivering their goods and services, we’re managing ourselves in a more specialized way,” said Murphy, whose five-year term as Varnum’s managing partner ends Dec. 31. “It makes us leaner in how we think and how we deliver our services.”
As of Jan. 1, Murphy will lead the law firm’s business development, client services and community relations while continuing to practice as a trial attorney focused on employment law.
Scott Huizenga, former chair of Varnum’s corporate services practice group, becomes chair of the partnership and policy committee that handles strategy and partner compensation.
Tom Kyros, chair of the estate planning, tax and benefits group, takes on the role of executive partner and will lead policy implementation, lean processes and administration.
The new structure better enables each partner to focus on a specific area of managing the firm while continuing his legal practice, Murphy said.
In making the change, Varnum is following the lead of corporate clients that had to change during the recession to “do more with less” and become more efficient. They now expect their professional service providers to do the same and become more cost-effective and serve them in “more value-added ways,” Murphy said.
“That isn’t just a trend. That’s here to stay. As a consequence of that, we’ve had to rethink how we deliver those services and not just react when legal issues are presented from our clients. (We must) be proactive and anticipate what it is that they need and want, and really understand their businesses in ways that perhaps we, as lawyers, didn’t in the past,” Murphy said.
The structure is similar to what Varnum had years ago with an executive partner and management committee. Partners believe they can manage the firm without a practice administrator, although the new structure is “not a static change — it’s dynamic,” Murphy said.
“We will see how it works,” he said.