Assessing the Latest Possible Large Law Firm Combo
Who is Being Served? Empire Builders
For many leaders of large law firms, growth has become a stand-alone strategic objective. How many of them remember Steven Kumble’s similar view?
Kumble presided over an explosive expansion that, by 1986, made Finley Kumble the world's second-largest firm in the world. As Kumble erected his firm’s global platform from 1977 to 1986, a fellow partner asked him why his goal wasn’t to create the best firm, rather than the biggest one.
Kumble replied, “When you’re the biggest, everyone will think we’re the best.”
He was wrong. As Finley Kumble became one of the biggest firms, no one ever thought it was the best. Through acquisitions of other firms and aggressive lateral hiring of rainmaker partners, Kumble promoted a culture in which money became the glue that held things together—until it didn’t.
In December 1987, Finley Kumble dissolved, and its brand became a symbol of monumental law firm failure.
Steven J. Harper is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University and author of The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (Basic Books, April 2013), and other books. He retired as a partner at Kirkland & Ellis in 2008, after 30 years in private practice. His blog about the legal profession, The Belly of the Beast, can be found at http://thebellyofthebeast.wordpress.com/. A version of the column above was first published on The Belly of the Beast.