Law giant O'Melveny & Myers may be based in Los Angeles, but it is really a global enterprise, with nearly 1,400 employees, associates and partners in 10 cities on three continents.
On any given day, nearly 600 lawyers are billing clients, getting ready for court appearances, drafting legal documents, or scheduling vacations.
O'Melveny & Myers has more than 6,000 active clients meaning thousands of addresses, and many thousands of bills, to keep current.
Responsibility for keeping the gears running smoothly falls on the shoulders of Charles Wharton, O'Melveny & Myers executive director.
Formerly a top adminstrative officer for Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston, and a consultant at McKinsey & Co., Wharton said O'Melveny & Myers is different from most businesses, or even many law firms.
"In many ways we are a business," said Wharton. "We have sales, if you will, a product, we have an accounting department, personnel, all the divisions any business does but there is a difference. We are a very lateral organization. The firm still views itself as more a profession than a business."
While there is some departmental independence in the hiring of associates, the taking on of a partner, or deciding who makes partner, is the perogative of the firm's 15-member management committee, chaired by Managing Partner Charles Beard.
The management committee, in what is described as a consensual process, also decides business strategy (such as when to open a branch office), and internal firm policies, such as partner compensation.
O'Melveny is reluctant to bring on partners from other firms more so than other major firms. The partners' annual compensation, which runs into the high six figures, is based on the number of shares they own in the firm not the number of hours they bill.
"After associates and staff receive their annual salaries and bonuses, and all other expenses are paid, the partners divide up what's left over," said Wharton. "It's based upon the number of shares they own, which can go up or down."
Wharton declined to specify how shares are allotted.
Besides compensation, it is also Wharton's job to oversee the platoon of 180 paralegals, and 650 other support staff more support staff than lawyers who back up O'Melveny lawyers.
Just like any other business, O'Melveny & Myers must track payrolls, make deductions for taxes, review employee performance, and fire and hire.
Besides paying lawyers and staff, the big expenses today are associated with office space and technology the myriad computers, fax machines, online services, CD-ROM libraries and other high-tech gadgetry that allows lawyers to more quickly respond to client needs.
A major push at O'Melveny has been technology the firm has a 45-employee "information and technology" department, charged with keeping the firm up-to-speed with the best computers, online services and information storage and retrieval techniques.
In the future, every case or client may have "Web sites" within O'Melveny & Myers intranet, and already certain major cases do, said Wharton.
That way, a client or lawyer could easily look up all the documents filed on a case from their home or office computers.
Depositions, leases and other new documents could be added to the intranet Web site on a "real time" basis, noted Wharton.
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