Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog
« March 2006
| December 2006
Nov 28, 2006
The following questions was recently submitted for comment:
Question: I often hear the term firm culture used. What does this term mean and what impact does it have upon management of a law firm?
Firm culture is the part of the firm’s internal environment that incorporates a set of assumptions, beliefs, and values that organizational members share and use to guide their functioning. Is a pattern of shared values and beliefs giving members of a firm meaning and providing them with rules for behavior. These values are inherent in the ways organizations and their members view themselves, define opportunities, and plan strategies.
Much as personality shapes an individual, organizational culture shapes its members responses and defines what an organization can or is willing to do. Click here for link to full article
Nov 27, 2006
As we approach the Christmas holiday season we need to begin thinking about next year. Here are some suggestions:
- Take a serious look at the firm's present position in the marketplace. Review financials, compare against financial ratios, compare with both firm past history and against law firm benchmarks. Examine how well the firm is competing. Is the firm too dependent on a narrow base of clients? Is the practice at risk? Conduct a client survey and obtain client feedback both on firm performance as well as possible unmet needs and opportunities. Consider a comprehensive management review.
- Formulate business goals and develop a strategic business plan as a roadmap for the future.
- Design and simplify business reports designed to measure the goals identified in the strategic business plan. Strive for a one page summary as the primary report. Require all timekeepers in the firm to submit personal one page business plans which in addition to outlining goals for the year provided fee revenue goals with an element of stretch. The goals should have a stretch component but yet be realistic and attainable. These plans should be approved by the Executive Committee, Managing Partner or the Partnership.
- In all of our client engagements we typically discover that the root cause of most problems is poor internal and external communications. Poor client service, staff competency and morale, interoffice conflict, and client defections typically can be traced back to poor communications. Work on improving internal communications with firm personnel and external communications with clients and prospective clients. Yes, you have to have meetings now and then. Devise systems to improve communications and implement properly. If a meeting is required – conduct it properly, use agendas and take minutes. Use your email systems. Match the richness of the communication method with the nature and depth of the message to be communicated.
- Improve relationships with your clients. Lack of responsivenesshas is the number one reason for client dissatisfaction.
- Find ways to focus the firm and foster accountability from all.
- Undertake a few projects at a time that can be realistically accomplished. Delegate tasks across the firm. All firm personnel should have marketing responsibilities – from the receptionist to the senior partners and everyone else in between. Databases must be maintained, newsletters and articles written, presentations given, clients to be wined and dined, etc. There is work for everyone.
- Law firms must adopt management structures that enables the firm to act decisively and quickly. Structures that do not support such a culture must be replaced.
- Come to grips with the fact that times are changing and law firms are going to have to change and reinvent their firms dramatically in the next few years.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
Nov 24, 2006
Our firm recently completed client satisfaction interviews for several of our insurance defense law firm clients. Here are a few quotes and a summary of what these insurance company law firm clients told us:
- We want to work with proactive attorneys that aren’t afraid to try cases.
- Limit the number of people working on a file. I like consistent assignments.
- I expect attorneys to get back to me by the next business day.
- I like one partner and one associate per file.
- Most of our billing issues with law firms is due to excessive use of associates time.
- I get upset with attorneys that want to settle right before trial.
- The primary reason that we terminate our relationship with our outside attorneys is not reporting to us in a timely fashion and poor communications.
- I find that many lawyers are poor at managing their files and have poor basic communication skills. I work with lawyers that can do both of these things well.
- I think that it is important that law firms provide value added services such as newsletters, legislative updates, e-alerts, seminars, etc on a “no charge” basis. These services are provided by most law firms these days. Such services help us do our jobs better, improves communications and the overall relationship between our organization and the law firm, keeps us up to date on changes in the law, and helps the law firm stay abreast of emerging needs in our business.
- I will pay higher fees to lawyers that aren’t afraid to try cases.
Much can be learned by talking to your clients. Structured telephone interviews conducted by a neutral third party can provide many surprises as well as answers. Client satisfaction interviews can be the best marketing investment that you can make.
Nov 21, 2006
I had a call today from a lawyer expressing the following frustration:
I have been practicing law for ten years and I feel that I am in a rut. I am working for a firm and the relationship is no longer working out for me. I don’t have enough time for my family. My kids are growing up fast and I don’t have enough time to enjoy them. I need to make a change. Where do I start?
I provided him with the following suggestions:
A balanced personal and professional life is becoming more important to everyone. Time is a precious commodity. You should:
Develop a personal life plan and career/practice business plan.
Develop skills in time and money management.
Define what is important to you and define your personal-professional life boundaries.
Enjoy life and get involved in activities other than the practice of law.
Take charge of your quality of life – it is your responsibility.
Obtain training in the business of law.
Become entrepreneurial – think like a business person.
Begin by conducting an inventory of your personal and professional life. Start with your personal life. Identify your personal and family goals. Then move on to your professional and career goals. Develop both a career plan and a business plan for your practice. Some of the decisions that you will have to consider are:
Should you go with another firm or start your own practice?
Should you work for a large firm or small firm?
Should you go to work for a corporate law department or a governmental agency?
Do you need additional training or education? Should you get a LLM or a MBA?
Where do you want to work?
What type of work and working environment will make you passionate about your work?
For whom do you want to work? What type of law firm? What type of clients?
Do you want to be a partner in a law firm?
How much of a balance do you want to maintain between your career and home life?
How important is money? How much do you want or have to make?
Once you have defined your personal and professional goals you can formulate your action plans as to how you will get there and incorporate them into to career/business plan.
John W. Olmstead, Ph.D, CMC
Nov 21, 2006
I have seen more law firms and other business firms destroyed by poor cash flow than any other calamity. Cash flow is what keeps owners, partners and administrators awake at night. Many of our law firm clients have asked us for tips on getting paid. Here are some thoughts and suggestions.