The Power of Law Firm Partnership: Why Dominant Rainmakers Will Impede the Immediate, Widespread Implementation of an Autocratic Management Structure


Consultants and commentators have suggested that law firms would benefit from the implementation of effective business management practices. Specifically, a number of observers maintain that the partnership model by which virtually all law firms operate is outdated and inefficient. To alleviate this inefficiency, commentators claim that law firms could experience tremendous gains through the adoption of a corporate management model. Although the proposals advanced by observers differ slightly, the basic premise of the suggested solutions requires law firms to replace (or at least modify) their partnerships with a rational management structure in favor of a centralized leader who can best maximize efficient client service and lawyer satisfaction.

Although sound in theory, this paper argues that such a transformation is likely to be extremely difficult, given the current distribution of power within the large law firm. More specifically, a structural conflict exists between the best interests of the firm and the firm’s most powerful rainmaking partners because the dominant rainmakers are both mobile and the most powerful actors within law firms. Law firms rely heavily on their most productive star lawyers because these individuals generate a significant amount of revenue and service the firm’s most important clients. Consequently, these partners wield a considerable amount of power within the firm. But because the new model requires that power shift from the rainmaking partners to a centralized leader, it is unlikely that the powerful partners will easily relinquish the authority and influence they currently enjoy. Consequently, those attempting to modify the firm’s management structure, and therefore alter the distribution of power within the firm, have the arduous task of garnering the approval of the firm’s rainmakers since these are the lawyers who are in a position to thwart any proposed transformation.


Business Organizations Law | Legal Profession

Date of this Version

April 2006