Celebrating 75 Years of Serving Nevada’s Legal, Business, Government, and Civic Communities

Law.com Q&A: “How I Made Practice Group Chair”

On March 22, 2024, Law.com published a Q&A with Pat Lundvall as part of the publication’s “How I Made It” leadership series that provides career advancement advice and success stories. Pat’s Q&A is provided below. Pat answered the following questions:

  • What made you pick your practice area?
  • How did you develop your expertise in your practice area?
  • What other roles or experiences help you in this current role?
  • Why did you want to become a practice group leader?
  • Do you have a broader influence in this role over improving diversity at your firm? If yes, how?
  • What skill sets do you need to be an effective practice group leader (i.e., knowing more about the practice, hiring, business development, financial management, etc.)?
  • Is there any other advice you’d share for those looking to become a practice leader?
  • What are key priorities for your practice area?
  • How does having a practice leadership role give you a sense of the broader strategic vision of the firm?
  • Is succession planning a part of your role as a practice group leader, and if yes, how so?
  • Is there anything that surprised you about the role?
  • How has the role given you insights into client needs?
  • How do you balance client work with management work?

How I Made Practice Group Chair:
‘Being a Practice Leader Is a Responsibility—Not a Role,’
Says Pat Lundvall of McDonald Carano

“Being a practice leader is a responsibility—not a role. Whether establishing a new practice, growing an existing practice, or taking a practice in a different direction, do it in a way that includes and leverages every lawyer, law clerk, paralegal and administrative staff member in the practice—help everyone rise together as a team.” Law.com, March 22, 2024

What made you pick your practice area?

Competition is the common denominator to all aspects of my life. Being the middle child in a family of 13—six brothers, six sisters, six older and six younger—my competitive instincts were honed at an early age. As a competitor I am blessed that the law, in particular litigation, chose me. The first matter I ever worked on was a high-profile litigation matter. After that I was hooked!

How did you develop your expertise in your practice area?

I established a network of mentors inside and outside my firm. I asked questions about the law and how to practice law. I went to court to watch mentors and study different approaches and styles. I also was fortunate that mentors welcomed my requests to swim in the deep end of the pool and help me develop the skills for those environments.

What other roles or experiences help you in this current role?

As Chair of our Commercial & Complex Litigation Practice Group, I often rely upon my experience serving nine years on the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the first woman to become its Chair. It was a public service function for which I received no compensation. The Governor appoints the five-member Commission and, at the time, the members of the Commission chose the Chair. NASC regulates professional unarmed combat, including licensure and supervision of all aspects of professional events in boxing, mixed martial arts and kick-boxing. The NASC’s principal function is to protect the health and safety of athletes. Serving on the Commission was a responsibility I took very seriously. As Chair, I led and worked with fellow Commissioners, an Executive Director, seven employees, and the Office of the Attorney General. As Commission Chair, I gained experience leading a group of professionals similar to leading the group of professionals as Chair of our Commercial & Complex Litigation Practice Group—a responsibility I also take very seriously.

Why did you want to become a practice group leader?

I am a co-founder and Advisory Board Member of the Complex Commercial Litigation Institute (CCLI) of the Litigation Counsel of America (LCA), and a Senior Fellow of LCA. The decision to accept the responsibility as Chair of the Commercial & Complex Litigation Practice Group at McDonald Carano involved many of the same reasons for co-founding CCLI, and those reasons are found in the similar missions of both groups: (1) provide a forum to share specialized expertise and best practices in litigating and trying complex commercial cases, (2) provide a resource for substantive and procedural knowledge, and (3) to educate and train complex litigation practitioners. Serving as Chair of our firm’s Litigation Practice Group is my commitment to grooming the next generation of our litigators. It is also how I thank practice leaders who came before me and dedicated their time and energy to make sure McDonald Carano had a successful litigation practice I could join early in my career. I am a major proponent of giving back and giving forward, and leading the Commercial & Complex Litigation Practice Group is how I do both.

Do you have a broader influence in this role over improving diversity at your firm? If yes, how?

As chair of our Commercial & Complex Litigation Practice Group, I embrace the influence I have over augmenting diversity at our firm. It is especially important to me because improving diversity at McDonald Carano means improving diversity in the legal profession. Reaching back and paying forward the favors others gave me as I journey throughout my career is critically important whether you are male or female. For example, I selected a diverse and all-female team of McDonald Carano litigation attorneys who served as Nevada counsel in a national bellwether case tried in Oct./Nov. 2022 resulting in a $62.65 million jury verdict for our client, plus attorneys fees and costs. I also selected a diverse and all-female trial team for my next two trials scheduled during the first half of 2023. In the last two years, we expanded our litigation practice bringing on five Associates and all are diverse and/or women, including two who joined us after clerking for Justices of the Nevada Supreme Court and one recently received a “Diverse Lawyer Making a Difference” award.

What skill sets do you need to be an effective practice group leader (i.e., knowing more about the practice, hiring, business development, financial management, etc.)?

One needs skills for collaborating with the leaders of the firm’s other practice groups in terms of firm management, strategic planning, and cross-practice business development. Effective practice group leaders also recognize they are leading a business. In that context, a practice group leader needs to “have it all” or be willing to learn it all. In addition to knowing the areas of law that impact the practice, the practice group leader needs skills and knowledge to run a business: (1) budgets, cost structures, and financial management, (2) recruiting, hiring, promoting, and addressing performance, (3) optimal organizational and communication structures, (4) marketing and business development at the attorney and practice group levels, and (5) education, training and development of practitioners and up and coming leaders. Practice group leaders are also ultimately responsible for the practice group’s culture.

Is there any other advice you’d share for those looking to become a practice leader?

If you are interested in becoming a practice group leader solely for the benefit of your individual practice, I do not recommend it because you are likely to experience only short-term rewards. Sustainable long-term rewards are for practice leaders who are in it “for the greater good.” Being a practice leader is a responsibility—not a role. Whether establishing a new practice, growing an existing practice, or taking a practice in a different direction, do it in a way that includes and leverages every lawyer, law clerk, paralegal and administrative staff member in the practice—help everyone rise together as a team. The practice leader’s goal is to provide an inspiring sense of shared energy and enthusiasm for an entire team that looks forward to coming together to improve work life for everyone and enhance service to clients. If team members are disengaged, disappointed, or disenchanted, it will show up in their client work. Clients benefit from your leadership, they are also the driver. Everything you do should pass through the question of “How will this impact clients?” Clients ultimately decide the success of a practice group leader.

What are key priorities for your practice area?

Key priorities for our litigation practice include: (1) increase and improve upon all opportunities, (2) expand the size of our team to meet client needs, (3) develop expertise in emerging areas of law and new client industries, (4) create opportunities for practice members to participate in the leadership of the practice, and (5) support the pro bono needs of our local communities. These priorities are better described as ongoing metrics for our practice group, meaning they are not designed to have a stopping point. Instead, the goal is to never lose our focus on any of these priorities and strive to do more of each of one. The more we do, the better we become.

How does having a practice leadership role give you a sense of the broader strategic vision of the firm?

Our Strategic Plan is derived from the incorporation and integration of the business plan for each practice group. Together, the practice group leaders, office leaders, and our executive committee develop the business roadmap that directs how we will collectively achieve the strategic vision of the firm. Being a practice group leader offers a reserved seat at the table to not only help create the Strategic Plan, but also influence the strategic vision that guides the Strategic Plan.

Is succession planning a part of your role as a practice group leader, and if yes, how so?

Succession planning is one of my responsibilities as practice group leader and it is a prominent consideration when developing up and coming leaders. You can’t have one without the other. For a practice group leader, succession planning is important in terms of both leadership of the practice group and leadership of the practice group’s client relationships. For example, I factor succession planning and associated leadership development into (1) selecting the optimal team and team leader to handle specific matters, (2) introducing junior attorneys to clients through their work product and face-to-face meetings, and (3) supporting attorneys’ active involvement in associations that serve the legal profession, business community, and philanthropic networks. I do not treat succession planning as a one-time event; it is more like a contingency plan that is regularly reevaluated and updated as a variety of internal and external factors change.

Is there anything that surprised you about the role?

I earned a B.S. and M.S. in Exercise Sciences from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Early in my career, I taught at the University of Nebraska and I enjoyed sharing knowledge, helping students learn and understand, and offering insights on how to fit professional aspirations into personal life plans. I was happily surprised to discover that being practice group leader is a lot like being a teacher. As practice group leader, I have fulfilling and rewarding opportunities to educate and train our attorneys, law clerks and paralegals. In contrast to teaching in the more theoretical university environment where lessons often stop at the end of the classroom day, the “students” I have as a practice group leader can immediately apply the knowledge and best practices they learn into their daily work. A practice group leader is in the special position of being able to impart skills, know-how, and experience—and make an immediate difference.

How has the role given you insights into client needs?

As practice group leader, I know all of the key cases we are handling, clients we are serving, and legal problems we are solving. From this vantage point, I have a comprehensive big picture view of our firm’s client needs—needs that are unique to different types of clients, industries and business lifecycles. I use these insights to proactively advise clients of legal issues, challenges, and strategies they might not have anticipated or contemplated. I also use these insights to position McDonald Carano as a collaborative partner that is valued for the added value it provides which transcends any specific matter we are handling for the client.

How do you balance client work with management work?

One of the keys to managing the workload of a practice group leader is not to solely take on every aspect of running the practice. For example, providing ongoing education and training to the practice group can also be handled by others in the group. At each of our monthly meetings different attorneys present a CLE to update the team on new case law, developments in court rules and procedures, changes in members of the judiciary, and strategic and tactical insights gained from current client matters. As chair, I could provide all these CLEs but teaching is an important opportunity for other members of the practice group to share their interests and expertise, develop and hone their presentation skills, and test the leadership waters.


About McDonald Carano

In 2024, McDonald Carano celebrates 75 years of serving Nevada’s legal, business, government, and civic communities. More than 60 lawyers and government relations professionals serve Nevada, national, and international clients from our offices in Reno, Las Vegas, and Carson City. McDonald Carano provides legal services and government affairs and advocacy advice to startups, corporations, private companies, trade associations, nonprofits, public entities, high-net-worth individuals, and family offices throughout Nevada. We are proud to be your Nevada law firm since 1949.

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