David Antzis Featured

8:00pm EDT September 21, 2006
 In his three-and-a-half years as head of Saul Ewing LLP’s business department, David Antzis doubled the department’s size. That result earned him a promotion in mid-2005 to managing partner of the 600-employee, $115 million law firm, a move it hoped would put him in a position to grow the law firm successfully the same way he had grown the business department successfully. Smart Business spoke with Antzis about how he executes a plan and how he maintains quality while expanding to new locations.

Use experienced mentors to help young employees fit in.
As we grow and open new offices, a significant challenge is making sure we best integrate the new people into the new practice areas we acquire. You can find a great group, and if you don’t integrate them into the law firm, they may not be successful, even though they’re smart people.

If all we did was bring them into the law firm and say, ‘OK, go do your thing,’ it wouldn’t be a successful integration. For us, integration means we make sure people who already have been at the firm for a long time go to those offices and spend time with those people. It means our department and practice group structures embrace those people, introduce them to other resources in the law firm and make sure they utilize them.

We have a lot of face-to-face meetings and all-lawyer dinners. We do have videoconferencing, but that’s not a substitute for a chance to see people face-to-face on a regular basis.

Get to know not just what they do but who they are. Find out who their wife is, how many kids they have and what their interests are.

Developing those personal relationships across our employees is an important part of the integration process. We’re not perfect at it, but we’re working at it all the time to get better.

Get input and make a plan.
In developing a strategic plan, you start by really listening to everyone in the organization, your partners, your associates, your other employees.

Once we talked to a lot of people and found out how we can be most successful, we put a plan together — a shared vision — and we communicated that vision as often as we could. We had partner meetings, we held department meetings. In fact, when we put our strategic plan together, we had separate meetings with our partners, associates and staff to articulate what our shared vision was, in order to develop a buy-in across everyone in the law firm.

We didn’t want it to be a top-down strategic plan, where the senior management was telling the rest of the firm what our vision was. We wanted to talk it through with everybody, get input from everybody and continue to revise it. In fact, we treat our strategic plan like an organic document. We refresh it on a daily basis.

Don’t just make a plan, execute it.
Developing a strategic plan or a shared vision is important, but making sure you execute and implement that vision is just as — if not more — important than developing the plan.

You always read mission statements from business organizations, and it’s great to have a mission statement, but if you don’t figure out a way to execute and implement it, the greatest mission statement in the world isn’t worth very much. Every day, you have to measure the decisions and activities of whatever the business organization is toward achieving that shared vision.

Give respect where it’s due.
People are motivated and inspired when their work is recognized and respected. So I try to be positive with our lawyers, and I look to celebrate their successes, first by personally congratulating them — because the individual one-on-one is very important — then by publicly congratulating them within the firm with a great deal of fanfare.

Don’t think any two people are alike, though. Quite honestly, I don’t think it’s the job of the leader of an organization to be loved by everybody. You can’t accomplish that.

There are sometimes situations where someone needs to be better motivated. You can celebrate the successes publicly, but when you have a negative issue, you need to deal with it swiftly and privately.

That’s really where the one-on-one issue becomes important. You watch a baseball manager publicly lambaste their players in the newspaper; I don’t know that that’s the best way to treat them. When a player isn’t carrying their load, the manager should meet with them privately.

But successes I try to trumpet publicly across the firm and in press releases across our region if it’s important.

Hire problem-solvers.
Because our business is servicing clients, our No. 1 goal is to have high-quality people who are high-quality lawyers. That’s really where it all starts.

Traditionally, law firms have been scheduled around departments; you’d have your business department, your litigation department, your real estate department. But we have found clients don’t call you and say, ‘Can your business department help me?’ They call you because they have a problem to be solved.

Rather than a business department or a litigation department, we have developed practice groups that reflect either that industry or that area of expertise. We have very sophisticated lawyers who know those industries well, so when a client has a problem, our lawyers are very much aware of the regulatory framework and how best to service that client.

It’s definitely all about the people. If you’re a service business, you’re into meeting client demands and reducing high levels of work for them.

HOW TO REACH: Saul Ewing LLP, (215) 972-7777 or www.saul.com