Setting The Stage For Success: Law Firm Implements Behavioral Changes And Reinvents Itself For Another Century In Practice

Case Study: Kavanagh, Scully, Sudow, White and Frederick Law Offices


Many law firms are built on tradition- traditional practices and traditional methods of governance- and the Law Firm of Kavanagh, Scully, Sudow, White and Frederick (KSSWF) is no exception. Established in 1883, this Peoria, Illinois based firm staffs 12 practicing attorneys and 12 supporting staff members who are accustomed to doing business the way it has always been done at KSSWF. However, changing times and changing client needs were taking a toll on the growth and profitability of the firm, so in 1996 KSSWF turned to Olmstead & Associates for help.

Through initial consultation, staff review, evaluation and a comprehensive course of action, Olmstead & Associates successfully defined clear leadership within the firm, designed a three-tier governance structure, and implemented a plan of action designed to reinvent the firm. By enacting the plan of action, KSSWF has seen sustained growth and profitability over the last several years and has seen an increase in employee and client satisfaction.


To help guide the KSSWF law firm, Olmstead & Associates helped the firm clearly define both short and long term goals that would ultimately be instrumental in the continued success of the firm. The following are KSSWF’s objectives that were established during the ongoing consulting engagement.

  1. Clearly define leadership within the firm and redesign the governance structure.
  2. Develop individual performance goals for all attorneys and staff to enhance marketing efforts, fee revenue, and improve client service.
  3. Create an action-orientated team culture and instill a sense of accountability in every attorney and staff member and adopt a client-service mindset throughout the firm.
  4. Continuously seek innovations in client service, ongoing professional development, and technology to help guide the firm through the 21st century.


  1. One of the main problems KSSWF was facing was that there was no clearly defined leadership within the firm. Too many partners were involved in the day-to-day decision-making. The firm had difficulty getting things done. The partners needed to be re-educated about the need and desirability for strong leadership and centralized management. We worked with the firm to integrate a three-tiered governance plan to help develop a defined set of responsibilities for all involved in firm management. Like many firms, KSSWF operated best through a tiered relationship of administration, management and leadership. By defining this three-tiered structure those with management responsibility could better work within their defined responsibilities.
  2. Because practicing attorneys did not have definitive and structured management responsibilities, they often took on too many administrative functions and not enough policy-making or management functions. This, over time, led to less billable client hours and decreased profitability. We suggested that KSSWF hire a legal administrator, someone with expertise in handling the day-to-day administrative responsibilities, therefore freeing more time for attorneys to devote to their clients’ needs. They did hire a full-time legal administrator, someone proficient in everything from billing to accounting systems, who ultimately was able to redirect the focus of other employees.
  3. Hiring a legal administrator helped attorneys and staff better understand their own roles and responsibilities, but in order to gauge their ultimate success, they needed feedback on their productivity. We, realized that they were not consistently informed of the firm’s financial status, making it difficult to gauge their own individual profitability. Through our guidance, the firm developed a one-page monthly financial summary report. It compared individual and firm goals to actual performance and contained everything from individual production, firm revenue, expense and financial status to marketing accomplishments. This report was designed to help each attorney and staff member focus their efforts and make them accountable for their own profitability. Not only did it succeed, but it also helped push each attorney and staff member to meet the needs of his or her client first and foremost.
  4. In all, we helped restructure the governance of the firm. By centralizing the administrative and executive leadership, lawyers were able to optimize their time on both client and management matters. The new legal administrator provided the cushion needed for balance and help focus the firm and keep it on track. We helped KSSWF realize that sometimes time-honored roles and responsibilities change and evolve over time, and the firm must respond by looking for innovative ways to adjust and implement management practices as needed.


After being in existence for more than one hundred years, KSSWF felt the need to hire a legal management-consultant to guide the firm towards sustained employee profitability and, ultimately, increased revenues. After implementing the plans of Olmstead & Associates, KSSWF has maintained stability in the size of the firm, increased both revenue and profitability, is utilizing a legal administrator on a full-time basis and is working together to keep the firm running smoothly. The internal communication has increased dramatically, and there has even been an increase in external communication in the form of public relations and marketing. Together, the firm has maintained its first-class image, both internally and to the public. But most importantly, KSSWF’s clients report an increased satisfaction of the firm. Working to reorganize a one hundred-year old operation was not easy, but with the help of Olmstead & Associates, KSSWF proved that embracing change can be done with dedication, drive and commitment.


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