Building a Law Firm for the Next Generation

August 9, 2016

Bill Voge is Chair and Managing Partner of Latham & Watkins, a law firm with more than 2,200 lawyers around the world. In this Q&A, he talks about what makes Latham unique, how the firm sustains its culture, and trends impacting the legal industry.

How would you describe Latham’s culture? As the firm has grown, how have you sustained and strengthened the culture?  

Many people are surprised to learn that, unlike many other large law firms, Latham doesn’t have a headquarters. Nor do we track firm profits by location of our lawyers or by practice groups. And there is no dominant office or practice. Instead, we emphasize collegiality and collaboration with our “one firm” culture. We have offices in 12 countries, and each of those offices cares deeply—and equally—about transparency, pro bono, teamwork, diversity, and the other values that guide and unite us. 

Our culture means something: it is the basis on which we serve our clients, how we foster teamwork, what drives us to innovate, and how we recruit the best and the brightest talent around the world. This is huge benefit to our new recruits because they’re joining a firm where our lawyers actually get along with each other and that makes a big difference in how we practice law. 

It takes a concerted effort to build and sustain a unified culture across so many offices. Consensus-based management and collaborative decision-making are crucial components. For example, the Associates Committee, which consists of equal numbers of associates and partners, manages associate performance reviews and compensation and makes partnership recommendations. This is uniquely Latham.

We have training academies for our lawyers that also strengthen our sense of community and unity at the firm. These academies are multi-day, in-person professional development programs and Latham attorneys from across the world attend. We provide our lawyers with support and guidance at every stage of their careers, and this commitment is another part of our shared ethos.

Why does diversity matter at Latham?

Diversity at Latham means diversity of gender, races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, cultures, and more—and diversity at Latham makes us who we are. Fostering a diverse, inclusive environment at Latham is incredibly important to all of our lawyers. It’s also important to me personally. I am a first generation professional. In my role as Latham’s Chair and Managing Partner, I’ve made reaching out to first generation professionals a priority.

We’re proud of our programs and scholarships that grow and support the next generation of great lawyers committed to diversity and inclusion, including programs providing fellowships for first-year law school students, scholarships for second-year law school students, and a training academy specifically designed to empower future leaders of the legal profession and create community among our lawyers and students, all of whom share a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Our lawyers are also provided with opportunities to participate in firmwide initiatives that enhance Latham’s diversity, including a committee dedicated to spearheading our diversity initiatives, affinity groups providing a firm-wide platform to build community across the firm, and associate-driven, office-specific initiatives focused on strengthening our culture of inclusion.

As the leader of a large global law firm, you’re on the frontlines of the profession. What are some of the key trends you’re noticing?

Among the biggest changes in the legal industry in recent years is its use of technology. At Latham, we’re tracking, evaluating, and piloting a range of technologies, such as artificial intelligence and predicative analytics tools. We’re developing strategic alliances with organizations and vendors, and we’re working to develop and deploy new technologies. It’s an exciting time!

In addition, our world-class technology platform provides our lawyers with the ability to connect and collaborate anytime, anywhere. 

We have always been at the vanguard of each new wave of technological innovation. Indeed, our ability to harness technology has been key to our ability to build our global platform and transform how we deliver our services, especially on cross-border matters. What guides our use of technology, now and always, is whether it helps us deliver greater value to our clients.

Looking ahead to the future, what forces do you think will affect the practice of law?

Having been in this business a long time, I can say that one of the biggest forces impacting the practice of law is the accelerating pace of globalization. We will continue to see more and more cross-border mandates, necessitating expertise and flexibility in a variety of countries and industries. Nearly 20 years ago, we set out to build our global platform. It was a bold decision then, but the right one. Today, our clients face a more complex and interconnected world, and their legal needs often are multi-jurisdictional and cross-disciplinary. If there is one thing for sure, it is that our global platform has been crucial to our success—and will be even more so in the years to come.    

In today’s global economy, the ability to assemble the right teams quickly who are adept at working seamlessly across practices and time zones is key. Working on these kinds of cross-border matters, as well as being able to pick up the phone and call your colleagues anywhere in the world, make for an amazing environment in which to start your legal career.

As we look to the future, we will continue to build our platform consistent with our culture and in line with the evolving needs of our clients, ensuring that we continue to create opportunity for the next generation to participate in the most complex, sophisticated legal matters in the US and globally.

by Latham & Watkins

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