While most lawyers simply focus on the task of running their practice, Winnipeg’s Bruce King doesn’t have that luxury. Not only does King have a busy commercial practice at Winnipeg’s Pitblado LLP, but as managing partner he also oversees the 60-lawyer business law firm, effectively wearing two hats — juggling both a working practice and overseeing the firm. King talks about how he manages both in the competitive Winnipeg marketplace.
What’s your service offering?
We are not a firm that describes ourselves as a full-service law firm. Instead, we are a business law firm. We stayed away from trying to do all things. We have been very strategic in taking on the work we want to do and we focus our effort on getting that type of work and keeping skills up in that area.
What’s your client base?
Our primary clients are locally owned and managed businesses. That’s our bread and butter and the bulk of our practice. It’s a nice market to deal with. We do end up complementing the services provided by the national firms . . . through our agency practice.
What’s the biggest challenge of managing your firm?
I continue to have a busy commercial practice. Clients have pressing needs that have to be addressed. It’s balancing that against the managing partner role. As managing partner you are dealing with immediate issues and concerns. (There is always) someone who needs to meet with you. What I find sometimes to be a challenge, is finding the time to provide the strategic leadership and strategic planning.
So how do you manage that?
Rather than setting specific hours aside, what I’ve done, instead, is treat it like it’s a legal project — you lay out a plan and the steps you are going to follow and do that. On the strategic planning side of things, I go more into a formal business planning exercise and follow it in the rigorous sense like you would in a deal. A closing gives the urgency and you get the work done. If there is no sort of closing in that business planning cycle you sometimes give it a (lower) priority. I think that’s the challenge in a legal environment — not being strategic and not planning.
Why not move to a full-time managing partner?
We’re of the view with our firm that we’re not at the stage where we need a full-time managing partner. From a personal perspective that would be a wonderful luxury that would be the answer to that challenge, but because we’re in a pretty stable market, that’s not necessary.
So what are the other challenges?
The one thing I find a lot of flux in, or change in, is in our relationship with our associates. I think all the firms have come to recognize that the current generation . . . does have a different philosophy. You can see the generational changes. You can’t just treat them in a lockstep-type fashion; they don’t have the same sort of aspirations and expectations (that the previous generation did). It does take a little more time to look at each individual and specifically work with them to co-develop a career plan.
How do you deal with those different aspirations?
One thing we find we’re doing is coming up with unique alternative work arrangements that suit the lifestyle of the individuals. We respond to the individual circumstances of the associates and find an arrangement that is mutually beneficial. Right now, one-quarter of our associates are at some stage of maternity leave — coming up to or coming back from maternity leave. There’s a variety of ways you deal with that. You give the person flexibility. Some work four days. We have an individual going to work completely from home and won’t have an office here. We used to give her assignments by email anyway, so who cares where the computer receiving those instructions is? We found that by being flexible like that, we can keep the talent.
They are at the stage of their development where they can work independently and are excellent resources.
What about salaries?
People want to be fairly remunerated. Ten years ago, people would work and know as they go through the stages of associateship that salary levels would increase. They were prepared to accept a lower salary in the beginning knowing that rewards were going to come over time. The current generation (seeks) more immediate gratification. They are carrying bigger student loan levels and initial salaries need to be higher. Interestingly enough, after time, there’s not the same expectation for the higher end.
What’s the demand for talent like in Winnipeg?
We’re in a different scenario than the Toronto or Calgary market. Winnipeg is a fairly mature legal market and a fairly stable legal market. You don’t find the movement of lawyers between firms like it appears to be happening in other jurisdictions.
Do you foresee the national firms establishing a presence there through a merger?
No, I can’t see any of the other larger firms in Winnipeg choosing to align themselves with just one particular firm. Their role isn’t that much different from ours. They want to depend on work from a variety of different firms. It doesn’t make sense to tie yourself to one particular firm. From a national firm perspective, I don’t think they have anything to gain by having a presence in Winnipeg.