Question: I am the sole owner of a 12 attorney practice. I am 55 years old and am beginning to think about retirement. The other attorneys are associates in the firm. What do I need to be thinking about in order that I can transition out of my practice and have money for retirement. While I have put some money in a 401k, I am not yet financially secure enough to retire.
You are not alone. As the baby boom generation ages – more and more attorneys are asking this question. Unless you have an appropriate Exit Planning Strategy and put in place a sound Exit Plan, it is doubtful that you will be able to cash in on the full value of the goodwill that you have created. To exit successfully you need:
You will need to consider whether you should consider merger, sale of the practice to an outside buyer, or sale of the firm to the other lawyers in the firm. You need to find ways to institutionize the firm so that in additional to professional goodwill (your personal reputation and goodwill) you develop practice goodwill (goodwill of the firm that will remain after you have left the firm). Develop your lawyers and create a desire and motivation for them to want to be owners/partners in the firm. Develop your staff and practice systems. Diversify and stabilize your client base.
If you decide to sell to attorneys in the firm – begin the process early so that most of the buy-in is completed before your actually leave the firm. The longer the planning horizon – the easier they buy-in burden will be for others
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
Question: I am a legal administrator with a midsized firm in the southwest. Our firm has recently lost two major clients and we have not acquired any new major clients for many years. Other problems regarding failure to innovate also exist. I am concerned that if the partners do not change their ways that we may not still be in business in the next few years. The firm need to change. Where do we start? How can I teach old dogs new tricks?
Response: This is a common problem being reported to us by several of our clients. Institutional clients are now shopping for legal services. They are looking for innovative solutions to their problems. They are looking for law firms that they can partner with and that becomes in essence a part of their team. The old ways of conducting business is no longer working with institutional clients. Law firms need to rethink their business and perhaps reinvent their practices. This will not be an easy task for many law firms. Change does not come easy and it cannot happen unless the firm sincerely desires to change and do things differently. In many cases law firms cultures will need to be changed to a client orientated model. This will take time and patience. Legal administrators will play an instrumental part in this process. The firm may want to start by getting out of the day-to day management rut and begin a process of long term strategic planning. Only then will the roadmap to change be able to be formulated.
John W. Olmstead, Jr., MBA, Ph.D, CMC