Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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December 2010

Dec 22, 2010


Year End Staff Bonuses and Raises

Question:

Our firm is meeting later this month to discuss year end bonuses and raises for our staff personnel. Due to the economy we did not give raises and bonuses last year. While we have been holding our own with the present economy we have been trying to watch our overhead very closely. However, we want to be fair to our staff and we don't want to lose key employees to our competitors. We are a five attorney firm and have four staff members that have been with us for many years. Do you have any ideas for us?

Response:

Your situation sounds quite familiar. Many law firms deferred raises and bonuses last year and are wondering what to do this year. Here is what we are seeing:

We are recommending to many of our clients that they use 2010 raises and bonuses to launch new performance base systems for 2011. They are awarding traditional raises and holiday bonuses for 2010 to clear-the-deck – and advising staff of new programs going into effect January 1, 2011 consisting of goal achievement bonuses where specific firm and personal goals are established at the beginning of the year for each staff member and annual performance reviews.

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

Dec 15, 2010


Ideas for a Successful 2011

Question:

Our firm, a 12 attorney firm, in Detroit, is having a partner meeting next week focused on thinking about what we can do different in 2011 in order to have a more successful year. While we have a few ideas what are your thoughts?

Response:

The economy is still posing challenges for many law firms and will continue to do so in 2011. Law firms must continue to be dilligent about managing costs but more importantly must really hone in on improving revenues. Here are a few ideas:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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, attorney and 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.
  5. Improve relationships with your clients. Studies show that each year 'lack of responsiveness' has been the number one reason for client dissatisfaction.
  6. Find ways to focus the firm and foster accountability from all.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Begin exploring new business models such as virtual approaches to the delivery of legal services.

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

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