Derek Hardesty, a partner and director of strategic projects at King & Spalding (K&S), took over the chief operating officer (COO) role at the US firm on 1 January from Patrick Glisson, who retired at the end of 2011.
Hardesty joined the firm in 1995 as an associate in the products liability practice. After spending several years as a management consultant he returned to K&S and practised in private equity before moving into management on a full-time basis in 2002. In his new role, Hardesty oversees the non-legal operations of the firm.
What does the role of COO at K&S involve?
Ensuring that the firm has a world-class staff supporting its lawyers and clients, and that those individuals are excited and challenged. Given that lawyers often bring advocacy to internal matters, another important role is ensuring that a ’firm-first’ view is part of any discussion.
How long have you been at the firm?
I was a summer associate in 1994. All told, I’ve been at the firm for more than 13 years. I practised litigation and transactional law at K&S. In 1999 I left and spent a few years at McKinsey & Co as a management consultant where I learned a new set of skills: big-picture thinking, spreadsheet skills, the ability to dissect problems and building a consensus – a critical skill in a partnership.
How many people do you have in your core team?
About 25, although what the ’core team’ is depends on the subject in question. In addition to administrative leaders the core team almost always involves lawyer leaders.
What are your team’s primary responsibilities?
Put simply, overseeing the non-legal operations of the firm. However, the role doesn’t end there. Seth Godin has written a book entitled Linchpin in which he talks about the need for individuals to make connections in today’s complex business environment. As K&S has grown over the past five years into a global firm, the need for people to focus on connecting offices, practices and functions has increased, and our administrative leaders are focused on doing what they can to build that glue.
Which board/s do you personally sit on?
I attend all meetings of the firm’s policy committee – its elected governing body – and compensation committee, although I’m not an official member of either. While boards and committees are important, our practice group leaders and office managing partners also play critical roles and I work closely with them.
Who do you report to?
The chair of the firm, Robert Hays.
What’s in your in-tray?
Items relating to the ’refresh’ of our firm’s strategy, a memo relating to how we can improve the way we keep track of the firm’s experience, items related to technology, an issue relating to office space and a request for approval of an alternative fee.
What was the most pressing item in it last year?
We began the process of refreshing our strategy, setting new goals and talking about what it will take to reach them. With our recent competitive gains – since 2006 we have opened 12 offices while growing our revenue per lawyer the most and our profitability the second-most of any top 50 US firm – we’re well-positioned to grow further.
What are the most significant issues that affect your role?
Externally, the competitive nature of the industry and technological change means that almost everything we do is different than it was five years ago. Internally, generating thought leadership in the areas in which we practice, opening offices and hiring partners all affect the role.
Turnover: $718.2m (£459.7m)
Profit per equity partner: $1.73m
Revenue per lawyer: $906,000
King & Spalding tracks a wide range of data, from revenue generation to hours to time spent on pro bono and community work.
“Having said that,” says Hardesty, “when it comes to data, what we find is that what we track is less important than making sure we’re all on the same page about what the data means.”
He adds that there is a saying at K&S: ’Know your partners, know your firm’.
“That means each partner – arguably every person at the firm – has a responsibility to learn about the firm and the expertise of its lawyers and professionals,” explains Hardesty. “As we grow and add new people technology such as the intranet, video-conference equipment and electronic newsletters must play an increasing role in our efforts to stay connected.”
Client relationship management: InterAction
Document management: Autonomy iManage (formerly Interwoven)