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Managing partner: Keeping that one-office feel

|Written By Kirsten McMahon
Managing partner: Keeping that one-office feel

McLennan Ross’ Chuck Russell says having three offices, in Edmonton, Calgary, and Yellowknife, can be expensive, but client bases are expanding and making it worthwhile.

How is your management structured?

It’s a three-person executive committee. We have some continuity both with respect to the executive committee and the compensation committee, and I chair both. This is so we can align compensation with management directives. The executive committee meets probably once a month, or once every six weeks. There are a number of ad hoc communications made in the interim. What we have tried to do is have a member of the executive committee based in Calgary, we’ve tried to specifically select someone from Calgary, and the other two are from Edmonton. We’ve also been fairly successful in having multi-generational representation. I’m coming up to 30 years of practice, the next senior member is probably 15 years, and the third member is about 10 years. It just provides a different perspective when it comes to management issues and hopefully this gives us some continuity and succession.

Edmonton is a very different market than Calgary, despite being in the same province. Do you find there’s a common culture among the offices?

Very much so and we very much strive for that. Part of it is that historically we had a significant part of our practice in Calgary before we opened an office in Calgary. Probably between a quarter to a third of our revenue was coming from southern Alberta and we decided to open a Calgary office when we were getting pressure for our Calgary-based clients to have presence on the ground. We started the office by transferring people from Edmonton, and while that sounds counter-intuitive in some respects, the advantage to it is that there’s a real cultural connection.

Speaking of geographic differences, what goes on up there in the three-lawyer office in Yellowknife?

It’s a different city . . . there’s a disproportionate amount of high rises in the city because it’s cheaper to build up than out. It’s a much more sophisticated and urban city than you might imagine. One of our partners had grown up in Yellowknife and was spending a lot of his time up there on labour matters and was quite anxious to get started and move his family back up there. We decided to give it a try and it has been quite successful in a number of respects and it’s been hard to manage in other respects. We have generated a significant client base up there. Many have been introduced to us through our labour work and we end up getting other work from them. The office has provided a real springboard . . . and that’s been very good for the overall practice. However, it’s brutally expensive up there and it’s really hard to find people who are there other than on an interim basis.

What are some of the challenges of chairing the firm?

All of the wonderful things I’ve talked about that create that one-firm atmosphere are expensive. We maintain a condo in Calgary for people coming in and staying a few days, but it comes at a cost. The travel between Edmonton and Yellowknife is no longer as expensive, but it’s still expensive to have people flying around and there’s a lot of downtime involved in that as well. The upside is, with the central management team, that we’ve been able to hold on to the one-firm feeling for a lot longer than we would have been otherwise able to.

Are there any practice areas that the firm has put more focus on than in the past?

Occupational health and safety is a real growth area. We’re fortunate to have hired a senior Crown prosecutor and he has garnered a very significant reputation amongst our labour clients. Health law is another growth area. We act for the Alberta Medical Association and that’s a real burgeoning area that has got us involved in a number of things.