Now that I am helping partners select the right firm for them I thought back on how I had selected my last firm.
It was 1996, I had generated $1 Million in business that year (at the time that was considered a significant amount). I knew if I was with the right firm, I could add to that number and serve my clients better. I had just begun working for a client that was submitting a proposal to construct and install the E-ZPass toll collection system in New Jersey and some surrounding states.
When he found out I was considering changing firms, a managing partner of a fairly large firm in the city where I went to law school reached out to me. We had several discussions, during which I learned the firm compensated partners based on tiers. The managing partner said I would be placed in the second tier of compensation.
When he shared with me which lawyers in the firm were in the first and second tiers, I discovered I would be earning more money than any of my law school classmates who had spent their entire career with the firm. I decided, right or wrong, I would likely have a target on my back and some of my former law school classmates would resent an interloper making more money than them.
I moved to Dallas because my clients were working on projects throughout the United States and DFW airport had many non-stop flights a day to those cities. I did research on the large law firms.
I knew that the two largest Texas firms would not likely be interested in a construction law practice, even though the size and complexity of the legal work on the large highway construction projects were rapidly changing. Some large Texas firms had what they perceived to be construction law practices, but no one particular lawyer was totally focused on construction.
I made a list of what was important to me:
- The firm should be growing not declining
- The firm needed to have a platform to give me the opportunity to expand the work I was doing for construction contractors
- The firm should be entrepreneurial rather than focused on “institutional” clients
- The firm should be collegial and might even have a “no jerks (I used a different word at the time) policy”
I started talking to firms in Dallas. When I met with the chairman of Jenkens & Gilchrist, I didn’t need to go any further. David gave me an assignment. He said:
Cordell, pretend like resources are not an issue. I want you to prepare a business plan for me that will triple your book of business in three years.
I prepared the plan, and still have a copy. And, yes, I tripled my book of business in three years. I’m not sure that would have happened had I not been asked to prepare the plan.
I also met Mr. Gilchrist. He was a special man. As written in his obituary, Mr. Gilchrist was a true Texas gentleman. At a later point when Mr. Gilchrist and I were talking about firm values, he showed me something he had written many years before about the importance of Jenkens & Gilchrist lawyers focusing on their families.
P.S. A year after I joined Jenkens & Gilchrist, in January of 1998, the firm was on the front page of the National Law Journal. I believe the headline was something like: Fastest Growing Firm in the US. I was interviewed and asked why I joined the firm. I found my reply in the article below:
The January 1998 National Law Journal article on Jenkens noted the firm’s rapid addition of practice groups from different firms as the basis for its growth, saying that Laney “inspired these lawyers to dream Texas-size dreams.”
As many of you know, the growth that occurred later, specifically adding the Chicago office, led to the demise of the firm. See: Taxes and Death: The Rise and Demise of an American Law Firm.
Did I choose the right firm? Yes and no.
I believe it was the perfect fit for me to expand relationships with existing clients and provide help in other practice areas. The firm had the platform, and resources weren’t an issue for me. I enjoyed being a part of a firm that was growing.
But, our firm grew in a way that caused its demise. I had opportunites to leave and join two firms that were among the largest in the world. I turned them down and started my coaching work. I suspect that had the firm not acquired the tax practice in Chicago I might still be practicing law in the Dallas Fountain Place office.