What would a managing partner do?


It's a valid question to ask. If you've always wanted to know the answer, you're in luck. We heard from the senior leadership of some of the biggest law firms in the world, and this is what they told us...

When you picture BigLaw, what do you see? Gargantuan office buildings that are all sharp lines and stark white lights? Faces shrouded in darkness and the cries of overworked associates? Okay – maybe we’re being a little dramatic, but BigLaw firms are intimidating enough on their own. Want to feel better? You can ask mentors for advice, but ask too many and sometimes, it can feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions. When you look further up the ranks for help, it can be even more terrifying for fresh-faced junior associates.

If you’re shaking at the mere thought of this, take a deep breath. We here at Chambers Associate have lifted the veil on what the senior leadership – managing partners, CEOs, chairpeople, etc. – at the biggest firms in the country are like. And guess what? They are all delightful! So, to assuage your fears, we asked them some more lighthearted questions during our senior source interviews (found under the ‘Get Hired’ tab of our Inside Views), and we’ve compiled a few of them right here. Ever wondered how the managing partners of your favorite firms spend their downtime, or if they love Suits as much as you do? Read on to get all the info you need straight from the source…

Chambers Associate: Is there any advice you’d give to your younger self starting out in your career?

Kim Koopersmith, chairperson of AkinI would say I should have taken it easier on myself. You don’t have to have all of the answers in the beginning. The second thing would be, it’s not a straight line and the journey is part of what helps you grow, and it’s hard to know that when you’re starting out. Did I think as a first year that I would be running the firm… not in a million years! 

Richard Chesley, global managing partner and US co-managing partner of DLA Piper: It is advice I give our young associates when I speak with them, which is ‘be patient’. I was probably a wee bit impatient. It served me well back then, but that was a long time ago. I think really take the time and embrace what is out there. Take all of this in and embrace it and be patient in your development. If you do that, good things will come.  

Jeremy Clay, managing partner of Mayer Brown: Have a plan and be proactive. Too often you can be a little reactive in terms of getting into a place where you just start rolling with it. Communicate with your team and leadership to understand where you are, how you’re valued and what you’re focusing on, don’t sit and wait until your annual review.

Vince Guglielmotti, CEO of Brown Rudnick: My advice would be to try and learn about the law as early on as you can and observe as many partner interactions with clients as possible. Not everything is going to work for you, but the best way to learn is to see what works and what doesn’t.

Vince McGuinness, president and managing partner of Cozen O’Connor: It’s so important to embrace who you are and where you’re going. Once you do that, you’re going to have professional and career satisfaction and enjoy what you’re doing. I love the law and it saddens me to hear people are unhappy in the job they’re doing; sure, it can happen anywhere but for us it’s really important to address these concerns, and enjoy the practice. You’re blessed to do it so enjoy it.

Christopher Dillon, principal at Fish & Richardson: …I would tell my younger self to take every writing course you can. Legal writing is a learned skill.

Taylor H. Wilson, managing partner of Haynes and Boone: Constantly read about what is happening in the world. It's rapidly changing, and it's easy to become too busy multitasking to take it in. Read the news, read books, read what your peers have to say. It's all part of a fascinating world around us. 

Scott Edelman, chairman of Milbank: My advice is that whichever law firm you go to, you want to work as much as you can and as hard as you can in order to learn as much as you can! Because the real thing you’re getting compensated with as a young lawyer – I know the money’s good! – but the real thing you’re getting is intellectual capital and experience.

Jami McKeon, chairperson of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius: It’s a marathon not a sprint. Just learn your craft, be an excellent lawyer and immerse yourself in the work—it’s more interesting that way. Also, it’s all about relationships, and wherever you’re building them, you’re going to do better. It makes you better at giving and getting help and understanding. Try to keep that growth mindset where you learn from every experience you have, but also apply that creative empathy that got you to where you are.

Jennifer Marines, vice chair of MoFo: Ask more questions as a younger lawyer! When I was a junior, I felt I should know all the answers or that I had to figure them out myself. What I realize now is that, while there were questions with answers that were obvious or that I could figure out myself with diligence or extra research, there were many questions that weren’t easy to answer – ones that senior lawyers were probably grappling themselves.

William Dillon, co-managing director of Goulston & Storrs: Get comfortable and learn to rely on others more. Focus more time on building relationships and a little less on building my own skillset. Before I started, I had an instinct there wasn’t a problem I couldn’t solve without hard work – of course, that isn’t true of anyone! What really makes your experience rich is being able to get the answer to a question that grows out of relationships.

Wade Cooper, managing partner of Jackson WalkerA few things! I’m on a health-kick now; I’ve gotten into rucking. I’d tell my younger self to take better care. Second thing, I think, at an earlier age, I would’ve focused more on what I wanted to do and become an expert. I also would’ve told myself to be optimistic and buy real estate because everything’s going to be ok!

Barbara L. Becker, chair and managing partner of Gibson Dunn: Take every opportunity to engage with that talent through formal and informal work assignments, pro bono, committee work, and the like. It will all be life enhancing.

Brad S. Karp, chairman of Paul, Weiss: My daughter just became a partner(!), so this is advice I’ve given to her recently: Find your passion in the law. Find something you love that excites you, that you find rewarding, and that gets you out of bed in the morning. Once you do, then commit yourself fully.

David Dekker, firm chair of Pillsbury: I encourage people to think about where the world is going - speak to people who have been practicing for a longer period of time to help determine what practice areas will be in demand and vibrant that are likely to interest you.

Michael Ray, managing director of Sterne Kessler: Many conversations happen before a meeting starts or after it ends, so it’s important to spend time with senior lawyers, looking, listening and learning… Look for a mentor and try to find one early on who will take an interest in you and guide your career.

Andrea Basham, M&A partner and head of US recruiting committee at Freshfields: Don’t be afraid of trying new things and of engaging with the unfamiliar. We no longer live in a world where a client shows up and says, “I have a securities law problem,” or “I have an M&A problem.” A client shows up today and typically has very complicated issues which require you to think in a much more complex way than you would have needed to when facing problems from, say, 10 years ago. Associates who are willing to pivot and learn new things are the ones who are going to be the most successful.

Paul Tiger, M&A partner and global co-head of industrials at Freshfields: The other advice I would have given to myself as a younger lawyer is to stay in touch with your colleagues. Some will stay in law while some will go onto other interesting endeavours…They will continue to be your peers, whether that’s down the hallway or as your future clients.

Michael Brock, chief operating officer of Linklaters: Building your own network is super important. As you join a firm, you join an office, a function, a practice group, but you need to think about the macro picture. You build up your network and leverage, and then it’s much easier to build a brand and do whatever aspirations you have. Doing it on your own is not the right way to do it.

Chambers Associate: The hours in BigLaw can be punishing. How do you unwind at the end of a long day/week?

Kim Koopersmith: I’m a very good cook, so I would say my zone for relaxing is to the benefit of my family members, who can generally expect when they see me over the weekend that there will be some bolognaise sauce that they go home with, or pesto, or something more delicious for dessert.

Wade Coriell, partner at King & Spalding: It was a lot harder than when I was younger, the technology is more expansive so the phone is always blinking! It has to be a conscious decision to switch off… It is down to you to create that time. I will say, having the phone and text messages buzzing while you’re sleeping so you can jump up and respond, looking at that LED light, is a big mistake. You should get your rest minimum! Put it on silent and away from the bed so you can rest.

Ira Coleman, chairman of McDermott: I'm a mountain biker, so I like getting out there. And I truly believe – and I say this to anybody who will listen to me, which is probably three or four people! – but it's good to find something to recharge your batteries when you get knocked down. And you’ve got to physically get knocked down and pick yourself up. So, whether it's falling off my mountain bike, which I hope I don't do that much, but it certainly happens, you pick yourself up. You get back on the bike and you ride…I'm sure there's research out there – I've never looked at it! – but I'm sure that it makes you much more resilient and it probably makes you a better lawyer and a better person.

The other thing is gratitude and appreciation. I take some time to write a quick note to somebody – I get weird about this. Sometimes I send texts to my friends who I haven't seen in years because I get really wrapped up in this job and I'll say, “Hey, I love you brother, haven't seen you in a while. Hope everything's going well, I want you to know how important you are in my life. Remember when we went skiing together a couple years ago, and that was great, and we have wonderful memories of it!” And then they write back: are you dying or something?! Writing it down and sharing it is a big thing. So, going through that kind of gratitude appreciation loop is important.

Jami McKeon: For me, family was always the way to carve out that other time. If I’m cooking in the kitchen and making a mess, it takes my mind off everything, but you’ve got to keep your perspective. There will be long hours, and I think I always tell people there’s no such thing as work-life balance. It’s just balance, because it’s all life! You have to understand that sometimes it’s going to be out of whack, so sometimes you’ll be in trial and not paying much attention to your personal life, while other times your personal life will take time away from your professional life. That’s ok, as you’re focusing on doing your best to find a way to make all these things work. The most important thing is figuring out what works for you, and then developing a life that works for it. I think it’s important to take stock of what will make life fulfilling for you while understanding that it’s not going to be perfect every day. 

Christopher Dillon: A couple things: I’m at a point in life where I’ve got other things going on. I can’t tell you how important it is to set my hours. It’s a distinction between the job and the firm. If I’m on vacation and I need to be there for the clients, then I need to be there. But the firm doesn’t put any additional burdens on me for that. I’m not required to be there at 7pm every day. The firm doesn’t make the job any more difficult than it already is. But it’s important to know that the job is demanding. It’s also important to have a good cohort of colleagues who support you; I’ve leaned on them to help me at times and that makes a huge difference. I know that if I need them, they’ll be there for me.

Jon Kagan, partner and chair of the hiring committee at Irell & Manella: Usually, the way I like to unwind is just to sit down and watch some good old American football, but I can only do that for four months of the year! I’m also a pilot! Because the job is so tough, I think the diversion has to be demanding as well. I like to fly when I’m not so busy. 

Barry Wolf, executive partner and chair of the management committee at Weil: I am an avid but not a great golfer, so I would say golf is something that allows me to take my mind off work, because it forces me to focus on something else other than business. I also tend to play with family members, so I’m also having good quality family time. I’m not sure I’m unwinding, but I’m decompressing from the stresses of the day! It allows me to focus on something I’m trying to master.One nice thing about golf is you can root for everyone you’re playing with to do well. It’s not like someone has to win and lose like with tennis. If I make par and my daughter makes a birdie, I’m thrilled! If I make a six and she makes a seven, I’m not so thrilled!

David Dekker: For most of my career, I either bicycled or otherwise engaged in alternative commuting to work – I used to rollerblade or run to work! For me personally, sports, athletics, and exercise are really important in terms of stress reduction.

Chambers Associate: Is there a movie/TV show/books about lawyers or the legal profession that you particularly enjoy? And how accurate would you say it is?

Kim Koopersmith: I live this life; I don’t need the movie or the TV show! 

Richard Chesley: There are so many and none of them are accurate! It’s funny – my youngest son was a chef, and he’s in the food industry. He can’t watch The Bear – it’s too close to him! The one that I love now and sort of most recent is Succession, which is not about lawyers, but it is about a lawyer. Gerri (the general counsel) is my favorite character because of the way she deals with complex dysfunctional situations. I deal with general counsel every day and that is probably the most true to course depiction of a general counsel you will ever see. Much better than watching Suits or something like that, so my hats off to Gerri! 

Jeremy Clay:I deliberately don’t watch them, after work it is the last thing I’d inflict on myself. When I get to watch TV/films I just want to watch something totally mindless. I do tend to enjoy the ones like The Big Short, as it's the world I'm in, but not lawyering! I’m always interested in ‘what happened’.

Scott Edelman: I’m a big fan of the movie My Cousin Vinny – it’s a classic, you have to watch it! It’s a great courtroom kind of comedy, and I recently watched another great movie that just came out on Netflix called The Burial which is another courtroom drama with a great cast – I’d recommend that one too.

Jami McKeon: I don’t tend to really focus on movies about the legal profession, but one of my all-time favorite movies is About Time. The leading actor in the movie plays a lawyer, so I can probably get away with that! It’s a great movie about life and the main character is a barrister. But I think if I were a doctor, I wouldn’t want to watch anything medical—I’d get too frustrated! 

Jennifer Marines: I don’t watch movies, but I love Law & Order. Though, it is not at all accurate. On TV, trials are wrapped up in an hour, but litigation in the real world can take years or even decades.  The exception may be my practice where some matters wrap up in 30 days – all the discovery, deposition, trial, and decisions.

Gregory Bopp, managing partner of Bracewell: I often share books and TV shows with the entire firm in meetings. On a less serious note, a show I always enjoyed is Suits. It’s a little impractical. One day, they are closing an M&A deal and then appear in court with a trial the next day! But nonetheless, it’s a fun show and easy to watch.

Vince McGuinness: I’ll give you three films. 12 Angry Men, super important movie and it’s a classic that’s enjoyable to watch. To Kill a Mockingbird; a great movie about fighting for the oppressed. And My Cousin Vinny, a lot of fun and lighthearted.

Taylor Wilson: I don't spend a lot of time watching movies or TV shows -- a result of being too busy. But my wife and I have enjoyed recently watching Lincoln Lawyer.  

Jon Kagan:I would say My Cousin Vinny is the best lawyer movie I’ve ever seen! I’ve used clips from it as a teaching tool in some of my lectures, but I wouldn’t say it’s accurate at all. It’s accurate in the same way you’d look at an impressionist painting and glean some insight for the real world. There’s also a show called Jury Duty where everyone apart from one guy on the jury is an actor. But if anyone is interested in getting into the legal profession, I still recommend law school!

William Dillon: I am not a big fan of legal procedurals in shows and movies so I’m going to have to plead the fifth… but it’s so lame not to give an answer! To some extent, I do love a good murder mystery – I’ve been watching Shetland.

Wade Cooper: I love Boston Legal! It’s not at all accurate but I enjoy the camaraderie piece. It also had a managing partner I could identify with. The Verdict with Paul Newman is also good. And The Paper Chase! It came out when I was a young law student. Some of it is accurate. It’s got some epic lines and iconic scenes.

Brad Karp: Practicing law is not like Suits— though some of the scenes in Suits were actually shot in our office. Both my parents were lawyers, so growing up I watched a lot of Perry Mason; I loved that. I think 12 Angry Men is one of the great movies about the law and the jury process. My Cousin Vinny is a classic lawyer movie that never gets old; I always smile when Marisa Tomei confidently testifies that “positraction was not available on the '64 Buick Skylark.” And I’d be remiss not to call out the book One L by Scott Turow. I went to Harvard Law School, and that book depicts life as a first-year student at Harvard Law back in the day. It was terrifying, though not realistic anymore, thankfully.

Alden Millard, chair of Simpson Thacher’s executive committee: Generally, I try stay away from legal pop culture, since it’s what I do for a living. My favorite legal book is Presumed Innocent, which I read in one sitting — though that reference may feel a little dated. It’s focused on a murder investigation, so I have no idea how accurate it is—I think that’s why I enjoyed it! In terms of movies about the corporate world, the one that I’ve enjoyed the most in recent years is The Big Short. I love that film; it is really entertaining and informative.  

Barry Wolf: I tend not to watch TV shows regarding the law, but I’ve read every John Grisham book that has ever come out! The Firm was one of the first, and he’s published 25 since. They’re all legal thrillers of some sort, and they’re not the most challenging read, so it’s nice to unwind with on holiday by the beach!

Danielle Scalzo, chair of the professional personnel committee at Willkie Farr: Most of my friends will tell you I am the worst to ask about pop culture. I have never seen an episode of Suits!

Paul Tiger: The funny thing is Andrea [Basham] and I have been joking around about writing a screenplay about our move to Freshfields! That would be a fun one to put together.

Andrea Basham: I think that, like most lawyers, I find that I can only watch shows about my industry for so long before I spend most of the time criticizing what is not factually correct. So, I cannot tell you that I have watched any show about lawyers from start to finish! I did watch Legally Blonde, though and it was enjoyable even if it is completely factually incorrect.

Michael Brock: No, I don’t think so. I can’t comment on that! I just stay away from it. When I’m in down time that’s the last thing I want to do!

Read the full senior source transcripts in our Inside Views