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Penn Law Entrepreneurship Club hosts event on the business of elite law firms

January 24, 2019

By Vandana Menon G’19

Barry Wolf, Executive Partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, addressed students on how law firms operate at an event hosted by the Penn Law Entrepreneurship Club on January 22, 2019. The event was focused on the business of law.

Weil employs over 1100 attorneys in 16 different offices, and is known for representing companies like General Electric and overseeing high profile mergers and acquisitions like Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp. Wolf is Weil’s Executive Partner and Chair of the firm’s Management Committee, and was named one of the Top 10 legal innovators in 2018 by the Financial Times’ North America Innovative Lawyers report.

At Penn Law, Wolf talked to students about factors that impact the business of law firms today, which provided insight into what it is like to work in a global law firm. He discussed how law firms operate, the business landscape of law, and the competition that law firms have to deal with. He also discussed how technology has changed the way the industry works, as well as the impact of issues like maintaining a work-life balance.

The session was organized in a Q&A format, with Wolf answering students’ questions. He began the session by discussing how a typical law firm operates when compared to other big companies. Law firms are private, and are typically governed by a partnership agreement. Management committees, made up of lawyers themselves, are typically involved in making certain decisions and recommendations to the partners.

“As law firms got bigger and got more complicated, there was a need for someone to come out of practice and actually run the law firm full time,” Wolf said. He said that lawyers themselves are sometimes asked to stop practicing full time and become managing or executive partners of their firms. Wolf has been an Executive Partner at Weil for almost a decade.

He spent some time explaining to students how both law firms and the marketplace have changed over time, and noted that today there is intense competition amongst law firms – as clients do not necessarily go back to the same firm that previously represented them.

“There’s a constant battle for clients. Years ago, not a single law firm had a business development team or staff. Today most law firms have business development groups that are enormous,” said Wolf.

The session touched upon technology as a big factor of change. Wolf compared the pros and cons of technology and explained how technology has shaped the industry – in the past, a large amount of time was spent on mechanical work. With the advent of technology, a lot of this time was freed up, and associates can now work remotely. The downside is that lawyers may feel they are on call 24/7. Wolf also discussed various tips and tricks that could help manage time better.

After engaging with students and answering their questions, Wolf ended his talk by advising students to talk to colleagues about the work culture of law firms they’re interested in, and find a firm that fits their personalities.