Sitting in a Minneapolis hotel conference room last spring, rob beattie had every reason to wonder where he would be working in a few months. All around him the partners who had remained at Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly were hashing out the future of the firm, if there was to be one at all.
For Beattie, the scene was all too familiar. Just four years earlier he had watched his old firm implode. Although Oppenheimer once boasted 350 lawyers in cities across North America and Europe, it, too, seemed destined for a similar fate. Certainly, it wouldn’t be the first seemingly successful firm to fail—or the last. Not that long ago, headlines had announced closings at powerhouse firms like Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison; Altheimer & Gray; and Hill & Barlow. Yet for every Brobeck there is an Oppenheimer—a firm that faced potentially fatal challenges and managed to come back from the brink and find new success.
Management consultants and lawyers posit a variety of reasons for law firm turnarounds. Some cite formal management structures, for example, or a professional sales staff that can boost client development. But as any lawyer knows, law firms come in too many shapes and sizes for any one-size-fits-all fix. What works for one may spell disaster for another.