Harness Dickey CEO Bill Coughlin spoke to Jonathan Walfisz at World Trademark Review about his new role as the firm’s first Chief Executive Officer.
A new trend over the past ten years shows that law firms are increasingly hiring business professions as CEOs. While some may have experience in law firms, many are not former lawyers, per se, and instead come from accounting or other backgrounds.
Coughlin, however, is both an active lawyer and registered patent attorney. He began his legal career with Harness Dickey and stayed with the firm for 17 years before taking an in-house position with Chrysler. He then moved to Ford Global Technologies, where he served as CEO and President for 18 years.
Coughlin’s in-house experience lends him an extensive set of leadership and business skills that supplement the fine-tuned legal skills lawyers already possess. For example, a business minded CEO could forecast large-scale economic events and help attorneys and clients realign legal strategies accordingly. The same skills can be applied to hiring diverse talent and adopting new technologies or cutting off old ones.
Having an insider knowledge of clients’ pain points, both legally speaking and in terms of budgets, also means focusing on tools that solve actual problems and save real money. “Corporate legal needs are going up, but the corporate budgets aren’t necessarily going up with that,” he says. Coughlin is particularly excited about the implications AI will have in delivering more efficient client service.
Beyond lawyers and clients, Coughlin suggests that the business minded legal CEO also focuses on promoting positive firm culture and collegiality. Like any good engineer turned lawyer turned CEO, Coughlin has made it his duty to define the values that make up Harness Dickey’s culture and ensure they continue to make it a great firm to do business with and a great place to be an employee.