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Law firm BCGL tests new model of leadership

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Rory Connaughton, founding member of  Brubaker Connaughton Goss & Lucarelli LLC, with the Lancaster-based law firm' s new CEO, Steven Mauro, who stepped into the new position in March.
Rory Connaughton, founding member of  Brubaker Connaughton Goss & Lucarelli LLC, with the Lancaster-based law firm' s new CEO, Steven Mauro, who stepped into the new position in March. - (Photo / )

Brubaker Connaughton Goss & Lucarelli, a law firm in Lancaster, recently appointed Steven Mauro as the firm's first CEO.

A law firm CEO isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Many firms are organized as corporations and have managing partners they refer to as CEOs, such as Lancaster-based Saxton & Stump. Jim Saxton is both the firm’s CEO and a practicing attorney.

What is groundbreaking at Brubaker Connaughton is that Mauro is neither a managing partner nor a practicing attorney. In other words, the firm is treating itself as a business and has hired a leader who is focused solely on operations.

The change has the potential to eliminate a problem at many law firms: After accepting the position of managing partner, lawyers often find themselves caught between the competing demands of practicing law and managing a business.

It’s one of the most difficult jobs a lawyer can have in a firm, according to Rory Connaughton, a partner at Brubaker Connaughton.

As cost pressures mount, it is harder than ever for law firms to make it as a business. Two local law firms recently closed: Rhoads & Sinon and Goldberg Katzman.

And management may have the power to make or break a firm.

“Lawyers think that they can run the firm themselves, and they have run the firm themselves, and up until more recently, they’ve been, they believe, very successful at it,” Mauro said.

A CEO in a law firm has two distinct roles, Saxton said. One is to manage it tightly as a business. “Because although the law is a profession, it’s a business. And it better be run and managed as a business,” he said.

Second, the role of the CEO is to lead, according to Saxton. That includes not only developing a vision and a strategic plan but also getting a firm’s other lawyers on board.

The leader also has to, you know, practice law.

Hence the non-partner CEO, who besides eliminating the burdensome position of managing partner, could improve a firms’ operations since they presumably know how to run a company.

Having a non-partner top executive could also help a firm establish an agenda that works for the entire firm rather than one or two lawyers.

Law firms have traditionally been personality driven, Connaughton said, meaning that the lawyer who brings in the most money tends to dominate the agenda.

The non-partner CEO could be a game-changer in an industry where competition has intensified over the last five years, Mauro said. Those that have tried it include Husch Blackwell, a firm based in Kansas City, Missouri.

But the model has had mixed results, according to Mauro, who believes it hasn’t worked out for some because the position wasn’t backed by everyone.

“I know the folks who were in these roles, and a couple of them have been enriched by the experience and say that it was a successful effort and a few others have said just the opposite,” Mauro said.

Connaughton believes it will prove successful for his firm, which was founded in 2012. Unlike other firms, Brubaker Connaughton doesn’t have 50 or more years of history with which to contend.

“We’re not stuck in a position where we’re doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done them. We have the flexibility to be able to make this move and embrace it unanimously,” Connaughton said.

Mauro, too, believes Brubaker Connaughton Goss & Lucarelli’s short history will make the CEO model successful.

The firms that failed to accept the CEO were larger, and the way they’ve always done things was deeply entrenched in the partnership, Mauro said.

“It’s so hard to make this kind of a change,” Mauro said. “I think it’s a little easier to make this kind of a change in an entrepreneurial firm.”

Although Mauro has a law degree, he doesn’t think it’s necessary for other CEOs to have one.

Neither does Saxton.

“I can see that working,” Saxton said. “Choosing the right person will be key.”

But leading lawyers and developing new products in the legal field will be a little more difficult for someone who is a non-lawyer, Saxton said.

“I’m sure there’s creative ways to do it,” he added. “And I have heard at some firms it’s very effective, so I wouldn’t rule it out all.”

About Steven Mauro

As CEO of Brubaker Connaughton Goss & Lucarelli, Steven Mauro will help the firm set and implement strategy as well as oversee daily operations. Mauro is currently meeting with the firm’s leadership to begin developing a strategic planning process.

Before joining the firm in March, Mauro served as COO at other law firms around the country.

Mauro holds an MBA from Villanova University and, while he will not be actively practicing law, he earned a law degree from Widener University School of Law in Delaware.

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Shelby White

Shelby White covers banking and finance, law and Lancaster County for the Central Penn Business Journal. For tips, email her at swhite@cpbj.com.

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