Announced on April 21, P3® – The Practice Innovation Conference will transform into P3® – The Virtual Experience, a series of online, interactive content taking place in June. The in-person experience was previously cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. View the P3 home page for more information.


Leadership Lessons From Battlefield to Boardroom
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Steve Merkel, Chief Operating Officer at Barnes & Thornburg LLP and Retired U.S. Army Colonel

The legal industry is at a tipping point. Pricing, project management and practice management professionals need to bring innovative solutions to help their law firms remain relevant. To drive this change, they must seek out knowledge and have strong communication skills to become effective leaders within their firms. During the keynote address, retired U.S. Army colonel Steve Merkel will share the skills that have helped him become an effective leader and build high-performing teams on the battlefield and inside a law firm.

Steve served in the United States Army for more than 30 years and led teams of all sizes both in peacetime and in combat – ranging from a few subordinates to well over 4,000. Most recently, he served as chief of operations of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Steve now serves as the chief operating officer for Barnes & Thornburg LLP based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Steve has found the similarities between the military and legal profession to be surprising and profound. You will walk away from this session with actionable steps that will help you become an effective leader within your law firm during a time of constant change.

Learning Outcomes: 

  • Examine what traits and skills lead to effective leadership
  • Provide tangible tips for leaders to develop effective leadership characteristics in themselves
  • Discuss three key characteristics of a high-performing team and how leaders can foster them


Steve Merkel serves as the chief operating officer of Barnes & Thornburg. He is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the firm and its 19 offices, including finance, information technology, human resources, marketing and facilities. Mr. Merkel works closely with firm leadership and the management committee to create new efficiencies and increase quality across the firm’s processes and programs.

A retired U.S. Army colonel, Mr. Merkel served a long and distinguished military career. He graduated with honors in his class from the United States Military Academy in 1986 with a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering and a commission as a field artillery officer.

After West Point, Mr. Merkel attended the Defense Language Institute in the Presidio of Monterey, California where he studied French before serving as a platoon leader with the 1st British Corps in Paderborn, Germany. Mr. Merkel commanded a field artillery battery and a headquarters company in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He then attended the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he earned a master’s degree in military science from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Mr. Merkel commanded a field artillery battalion in Fort Stewart, Georgia and in Baghdad, Iraq where he is credited with rescuing seven hostages held by insurgents near Salman Pak, Iraq. Mr. Merkel went on to serve as a regimental tactical officer at the United States Military Academy before commanding a brigade for First Army in Camp Atterbury, Indiana. He earned a second master’s degree in international relations from the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and went on to serve as chief of staff for First Army and deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan as the chief of staff for the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan. Upon his redeployment, Mr. Merkel served as the brigade tactical officer for the Corps of Cadets and the director of operations at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.