Managing Partners Survey: Optimism At The Top

, Daily Business Review

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Managing Partners Survey

For Holland & Knight's Steven Sonberg, the challenges of running a 1,000-lawyer firm with 17 offices are endless these days.

There's a contraction in demand for legal services, competition from alternative suppliers such as contract vendors in India, an increase in legal work staying in-house, and continuing pressure from clients to reduce fees and offer alternatives to hourly billing.

Additionally, Sonberg is overseeing newly opened offices in Mexico City and Bogota, scouting around for a new office in Houston and presiding over a renovation of the firm's Miami office that will be completed next year.

Is it any wonder that Sonberg as managing partner is starting to focus on succession planning and grooming the next generation of leaders at Holland & Knight?

"In the longer term, my hope is that over the next few years we will focus on transition issues — bringing new people into management-level positions," he said. "I want to make sure that others are coming up and moving along. We have a lot of extremely capable people that bring to the table a lot of talent. We want to cultivate those talents and give people opportunities."

Sonberg was just elected to his second five-year term in May and is clearly in no rush to hand over the reins of the firm, nor is his firm in any rush to lose him as its leader. He is just one of a host of managing partners to mention succession planning as a key goal over the next few years as Generations X and Y start to succeed baby boomers at law firms.

The myriad upcoming challenges Sonberg foresees echo that of other managing partners responding to the Daily Business Review's annual managing partner survey.

Fifty-four managing partners who run large, medium and small law firms throughout the state responded to the anonymous survey, answering questions about how they envision profits, hiring, office openings and the economy, among other issues, in the coming year.

The survey shows managing partners, while facing significant hurdles in this post-recession economy, are optimistic (52 percent) or somewhat optimistic (38 percent) about the coming year.

New Offices

While some might think expenses could not be cut any further, 71 percent of managing partners said they cut costs in the last year — 14 percent by reducing staff, 15 percent by cutting travel and entertainment, and 9 percent by reducing their summer associate programs.

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