The Talent

December 22, 2010 1:25 PM

Rocky Mountain High: From Consultant to Law Firm CEO

Posted by Ross Todd

While The Am Law Daily has been battening down the hatches for our upcoming holiday hiatus, out in Denver, former Hildebrandt Baker Robbins consultant Blane Prescott has been immersing himself in the finer points of a new job.

On December 13, Prescott, who previously served as senior vice president and managing director in Hildebrandt's San Francisco office, took on the role of CEO of Denver-based 250-lawyer firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.  We caught up with Prescott on Wednesday morning, midway through his second week on the job. Here's an edited transcript of what he had to say.

Hey Blane. So, how did this move come about?

Brownstein had been a client for six or eight years. I found the culture to be the most different of all the law firms I worked with, with the exception of maybe one or two. There are a lot of issues where the firm's approach is, "It doesn't matter what every other law firm in the world does. Let's do what makes the most common sense."

As a consultant, law firms from time to time will offer you a position, and I was never really tempted. I was mentioning that to Bruce James, the managing partner here, because he's a close personal friend and we just started joking. He said, "Well you should work here." I thought he was joking. Somehow the conversation just kept rolling over the next couple of weeks and I was more and more intrigued. This is a firm I've done a lot of work with. I've done some of their mergers that I think worked really well, and ultimately it just became too much of a great position to turn down.

You come on as CEO and Bruce, who used to hold that title, stays on as managing partner. What will your role entail?

What I'm going to do is split my time between revenue issues and administrative issues. As a consultant I was heavily focused on making law firms profitable not by cutting expenses but by finding ways to expand practices and make those practices more profitable. So that's what I'm going to be spending part of my time on here.

You say the firm stuck out to you when compared to other firms you've consulted for. How so?

One of the most common problems I was tasked with as a consultant was to help law firms that had done a merger make those mergers work better. And one of the most common things I found was that the majority of law firms did not have much in the way of a strategy. You saw so many law firms get themselves in a merger where the primary benefit was that they were larger. I think here one of the things that I have enjoyed is that the firm has been trying to avoid just getting big. The firm has always had a very dominant gaming practice and a few years ago did a merger in Las Vegas focused on picking up and merging with [Schreck Brignone in 2007]--clearly the best-positioned firm in the gaming practice.
[Also the firm is] more intolerant of some of the difficult personalities. They've been willing to separate themselves from difficult personalities even if those people have generated a lot of money because I think they place such a strong emphasis on people getting along and enjoying their work here.

At what point do you think a firm needs to bring in someone like you to handle the operations
side of things?

Most firms end up with a full-time managing partner once they get up in the 100-to-150-lawyer range. The problem is for a lot of firms they find that some of their most talented leaders are some of the people who have very big practices. They have great client relationships. It's that ability to foster relationships with clients and help them carry out their strategies that makes you a good leader. What's interesting here is this is a very centrally managed firm. When I was a consultant we had a huge number of law firms who would tell you "We're highly democratic." That's usually a code word for, "We don't trust each other." Here it's a highly centralized management in part because they've done a good job of bringing people in and making sure that you philosophically agree with where the firm is going.

What are the challenges for you focusing on one firm instead of two or three per week?

I'm trying to focus on an in-depth understanding of this firm. I'm trying to meet as many of the partners [as possible]. We're beginning to meet with the clients and focus on their long-term needs. You see other firms where the leadership of the firm struggles to get permission to go meet with the clients of the firm, and here the firm has embraced the concept.

Interviews are edited for clarity, length, grammar, and style.

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