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October 2010

Oct 27, 2010


Hiring Lawyers that are Children of Firm Owners or Partners

Question:

I am an owner of a 5 attorney law firm in the upper midwest. There are 4 associates in the firm and I hope to eventually make them partners. I have two children that will be finishing law school in the next year or two and they have expressed an interest in joining the firm. Is this a good idea? I have heard horror stories about such arrangements? What are your thoughts?

Response:

I have seen it go both ways. Many firms have brought children and other family members into the firm and have had excellent results. Others have not. In general I believe that law firms do a better job at this than do other business firms. Your situation is more complicated since you have associates in place that may feel threatened and uncertain as to their futures when you bring in family members. I believe that if you lay the proper foundation and go about it correctly you can successfully bring your children into the firm. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Recognize that for the family members there will be a family system, the family law firm, and an overlapping of these systems. This can be fertile ground for conflict if clear boundaries between the family role and the firm (business) role are not clear. Establish clear boundaries. Family dynamics and business dynamics seldom mix. Your objective should be to draw the clearest possible distinction between the two and make sure that everyone understands that the firm (business) is the firm and the family is the family.
  2. Children should not be brought into the firm unless they want to be involved and satisfy your standard hiring criteria for lawyers. I believe that before your children join the family law firm it is a good idea for them to work for another firm or organization. When they do join the family firm they can bring with them that experience, a supply of new ideas, a network of contacts, and a number of other benefits acquired.
  3. Make it clear to your children that they must "earn their stripes" and come up through the ranks in the same fashion as other associates in the firm. No special privileges. Make it clear that they must earn the respect of other attorneys and staff in the firm.
  4. Put your associates and staff at ease. Make it clear that your children are expected to "earn their stripes" and they will not be promoted to partner over other associates on family status alone. (Unless this is your intent)
  5. Clearly define the role of all parties.
  6. Monitor your own behavior. Don't take sides – either between your children if both join the firm or between your children and other employees in the firm.
  7. Be careful with compensation and other rewards. Compensation should be based up performance and results and consistent and competitive with other law firms of similar size and type.
  8. Put in place a succession plan sooner than later with a workable buy-sell agreement.
  9. Communicate, communicate, communicate – your intentions, roles, etc. before and after your children join the firm.

Click here for other articles

Click here for my blog postings on succession

Good luck! 

John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Oct 19, 2010


Law Firm Year End Planning Retreat

Question:

Our firm is a 25 attorney IP law firm located in Washington D.C. Metro area. We are planning our year end firm retreat to plan for next year. This will be our third retreat. While we believe we have achieved some positive results from the last three retreats – we believe that we need to accomplish much more. What are your ideas or thoughts on the matter?

Response: 

We find that many law firms try to use their retreats to be an extended version of their regular partnership meetings. They simply try to do too much. The agendas are loaded down with far too many topics. As a result there is a lot of debate and discussion on often day-to-day operational items and no focus on the more complex-strategic issues that often have been ignored or pushed under the rug.

This year try to do less and achieve more! Consider narrowing down the topic agenda and focusing on one of the following areas of concentration: 

Concentrate on an area and come out of your retreat with specific action plans which can be implemented and put in place.

John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Oct 06, 2010


Characteristics of Successful Law Firms – Basic Building Blocks – Block 7 – Marketing

For the past six weeks I have been discussing the characteristics of successful law firms and introduced the following basic building blocks that successful firms typically have in place:

Partner relations, leadership, management, partner compensation, planning, and client service blocks have been discussed. 

The seventh and final basic building block is marketing. Successful firms have an effective marketing infrastructure and program in place.  

Gone are the days when attorneys simply practiced law. Today, they face increased competition, shrinking demand for services and increasing supply of professional talent, availability of service substitutes, and marketing of professional services. Marketing can no longer be ignored if small law practices are to survive in the future.

Based upon our observations working with client law firms over the past twenty six years we have concluded that marketing is poorly understood and ineffectively implemented in many small law firms. In addition, the following obstacles are at play:

Time – There is no time for marketing or any firm developmental activities. Production is king and non-billable activities such as marketing are discouraged.

Uneasiness With Marketing – Attorneys are uncomfortable with marketing. This is primarily due to lack of understanding, training, and experience with the process.

Lack of Marketing Understanding – Many attorneys confuse marketing with advertising. Marketing is not advertising. Marketing activities can exist without any promotional components such as television advertisements, radio spots, tombstone magazine advertisements, or direct mail. Marketing is the broader process concerned with the development and delivery of legal services and is part of the firm's long range planning process. It provides answers to the questions what are we selling and to whom are we selling. It involves maintaining relationships with existing clients as well as creating new relationships with prospective clients. In fact, a major objective of many successful marketing plans is obtain additional business from existing clients.

Focus and Accountability Problems – Frequently law firms experiment with marketing and engage in isolated promotional activities not integrated with the firm's business plan with the expectation of immediate results after the one-shot activity. The firm engages in fits-and-start activities that are completely unfocused, unrelated to an overall plan, unmeasured, inconsistent and often inappropriate.

Cultural Issues – The typical culture of many law firms discourages investment in long-term developmental activities. The focus is on billable hours and production. Everything else is of secondary concern. The consensus governance model typical in law firms hinders change and timely decision-making at the firm level. In addition, effective marketing in law firms requires marketing at the firm, practice group, and individual attorney levels. This requires effective training, mentoring, follow-up, and accountability at each of these levels.

Reward and Compensation Systems – RMost reward and compensation systems focus on short-term production and discourage participation in longer term (non-billable) firm investment activities or projects.

Click here to read one of my articles on marketing

Click here to read my blog postings on marketing

I hope you have enjoyed the series. Next week I will resume posting questions and answers received from law firms. 

John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
www.olmsteadassoc.com

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