One difference in Dewey and Orrick, and perhaps the biggest one, that may lie behind their inability to get in bed together is their management structures. Adhering to the old school, white-shoe model, Dewey management is accomplished by a rotating "good lawyer" who is engaged primarily in what (s)he wants to do and, one might argue, does best—lawyering. According to a January 22, 2007 Wall Street Journal article, Dewey Managing Partner Morton Pierce spent 3,300 hours last year on billable client work, or an average of 12.6 hours every weekday, raising the obvious question of how much time, if any, he spent on management. "Management is not my passion," Pierce admitted.
Orrick, on the other hand, is managed by Ralph Baxter, Jr., who hasn’t practiced law since 1992, and who spends his annual 3,300 hours-plus on firm-wide town-hall meetings, informational web casts, and on-site and in-person office and partner meetings, exhibiting what David Wilkins, director of Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession, calls "the epitome of 21st century law-firm leadership."
While those in academia may have easily come to that conclusion, in the industry trenches what constitutes the best firm leadership is still very much open to debate. There are plenty of issues raised by the 3-5 year rotating model vs. the long-term model, including the impact on long-term vision and strategy and succession planning, that we won’t go into here. But the even narrower discussion about whether firms should have full-time or part-time managers, regardless of their length of tenure, can start to sound positively moral, with both sides claiming rectitude.
The word that crops up is "professional." One of the Dewey partners supports the part-time manager concept because someone "who practices is more tuned into the professional philosophy." And if that’s not clear, Cravath’s managing partner, Evan Chesler, also a part-timer, points out that "the law is a profession—not merely a business." (Note the "merely.")
Of course, managing partners who enjoy only short terms would be foolish to give up their clients and cutting edge expertise for what might be a short round in management hell. Their “professionalism” is another word for survival. On the other hand, they are right that lawyers respect no one as much as another lawyer: what managers lack in management skills they may be able to make up for with sheer lawyer-to-lawyer hubris: my book beats your book.
The point being made, I believe, is that lawyers are professionals who should not stoop to being concerned on a full-time basis with crass business considerations—which some would argue is the vision that has gotten the law business in today’s mess.
The clash exhibits some geographical correlates. West Coast Latham & Watkins, like Orrick, has taken the full-time manager approach for many years. L&W’s Robert M. Dell has been Managing Partner since 1994, with the firm’s growth, many awards and consistently high standing in surveys of all sorts trumpeting success. Bingham McCutchen, an amalgam of East and West, made the decision in 1994 to convert to full-time management. While old-line but broadly flung White &Case has more recently done so. And East Coast Dewey and Cravath continue to resist.
The trend seems to be towards the West Coast-originated full-time business manager over the East Coast professional, perhaps simply in light of the success the former model flaunts as its firms race ahead of the rest. As Wilkins points out, "firms that have radically moved themselves up the prestige ladder and the profitability ladder and expanded their geographic scope have had full-time leaders."
The major accounting firms, which law firms are starting to resemble in size and reach, all opted for full-time managers years back Both Bingham and White & Case say they intend to follow up their conversion to full-time management by expanding further the number of lawyers who are full-time managers.
Of course, it must be theoretically possible to be a part-time manager of a large firm and still succeed in managing well. The question that always arises is how can management of so many egos– who are quick to articulate and broadcast their skepticism—be effective without investing many hours of dialogue? The Wall Street Journal reported that Dewey’s Pierce "says he learned from watching Baxter that he could become a better communicator, particularly with other Dewey lawyers."
So perhaps the biggest challenge to Orrick may be finding an East Coast “mergee” whose management is sufficiently in touch with the troops—who takes the time and makes the effort to engage in effective communication, and who is therefore respected and trusted enough– to be able to deliver both the votes and the bodies.