'Parachuting in' to Lead Firms May Be Next Lateral Trend

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For Decker, joining Cozen O'Connor in a leadership role without ever having been at the firm wasn't as much of a culture shock as it might have seemed. While Cozen O'Connor wasn't the firm he used most often when hiring outside counsel, he was familiar with its culture through his close friendship with founders Stephen A. Cozen and Patrick O'Connor.

While Decker said he felt he knew the business well, he admits he did have reservations about "parachuting" into the firm.

"There are always some people inside a firm of whatever number that are going to think 'I could lead it,'" Decker said. "Clearly Cozen O'Connor had a few people who could have done it, and a lot of younger people in a position that, with some more experience, could do it. ... That wasn't my concern when coming in as much as my peers, and they were unbelievably supportive and terrific. It depends a lot on culture and you have to prove yourself, have to prove you are listening and know what you are doing."

For Decker, it was a new business, though by handling mergers and acquisitions as a general counsel and working with outside counsel, he had a sense of how law firms work. He said people being hired from other law firms or professional services businesses already have that understanding of how a firm operates. The biggest obstacle then becomes the difference in culture between two firms, Decker said.

"But at the end of the day, if someone is really good at managing business and people, that's the key," Decker said.

For Raju, taking time to meet with as many of Dilworth Paxson's partners as possible was an important part of his integrating into the firm. He said every partner had the chance to vote on his joining as CEO and all but one voted yes.

"I think as law firms become more and more in tune with the changing climate where they have to operate more as businesses, you will see a trend where firms will attract folks with business acumen to run things," Raju said.

He predicted lateral moves between leadership positions will be on the rise. For a firm that has global ambitions, for example, it could be easier to hire a lawyer who has already led global initiatives for another firm, Raju said.

"It's becoming a business," Raju said. "You will start seeing a hunt for business acumen."

Gina Passarella can be contacted at gpassarella@alm.com or 215-557-2494. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.

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