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June 2012

Jun 26, 2012

Branding the Law Firm vs. Branding the Individual Attorney


Our firm is a 42 lawyer firm in downtown Chicago. We have 22 equity partners. Five years ago we decided to allocate a significant portion of our marketing budget to branding the firm. In that regard we cannibalized the marketing budget to the extent that very little was left for individual marketing. Now we have many unhappy campers. Some of the partners are advocating scrapping the firm-level effort and going back to our past practices of "long ranger" individual marketing. What are your thoughts regarding firm branding? Should we continue our efforts in this regard?


In today's climate it takes both – a firm brand and individual attorney brands. Since I don't have all the details concerning your situation – it is difficult for me to generalize. However, based upon what I am seeing in the competitive landscape I believe that the firm was correct in deciding to invest in enhancing the firm's image and brand. However, personal attorney brands are important as well. I am often advised by law firm clients that they hire the lawyer – not the law firm. While this is only partially true, it bring home the importance of individual branding. Often lawyers think they can push off their business development responsibilities to "the firm" and go back to practicing law. This is simply not the case. Marketing and business development must occur at the firm, practice group and individual lawyer levels. Resources must be allocated to each.

Suggest that you review the firm branding program and what is working and what is not. Do not look for quick fixes. Modify the program if necessary. Review the budget and modify it so that resources are allocated to firm, practice groups if they exist, and individual lawyers. Insure that practice groups and lawyers submit business development plans and they are held accountable for results when their plans are funded.

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



Jun 19, 2012

Law Firm Dissolution/Winddown


Our firm has recently gone through a series of partner defections – we were a 40 attorney firm – now we are 10.  In our last partnership meeting we had some discussions about the possibility of dissolving the firm. If this comes to pass – do you have any tips or suggestions regarding winding down the firm?


Winding down a firm is like starting a firm but in reverse, harder, and has more steps. Sort of like building a house and then later tearing it down. You will have to deal with:

  1. Clients (notification, termination of representation, and disposition of case files)
  2. Retired partners
  3. Current partners
  4. Employees (associates and staff) – job placement, severance, etc.

Unlike other businesses – the major asset of a law firm are its clients, employees, and partners – many of which may have already defected or walked out the door. You may be left with only the liabilities.

One of your priorities will be to decide who will manage the winddown and who will manage internal and external communications.  Then you will need to develop a project management plan and dissolution/winddown plan/checklist. Major priorities will include:

  1. Bank Loans
  2. Building Lease
  3. Retainer Obligations to Clients
  4. Equipment Leases
  5. Retirement and Other Payouts to Former Partners

Firm should consider if it will retain a caretaker or trustee to manage the winddown.

You should insure that you review the ethical requrements with your state bar association concerning:

  1. Clients right to choose legal counsel.
  2. Notice to clients
  3. Proper and continuous handling of a client's matters
  4. Protecting a client's interest
  5. Disposition of client files
  6. Conflict of interest due to any new affiliations

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC 







Jun 13, 2012

Law Firm Merger – Challenges Implementing a Small Firm Merger

Question:  Three years ago our firm merged. The merger involved three solo attorneys and their staff merging into one firm. Now the firm consists of three partners and six staff members – a firm of nine people.  While the firm is doing well financially and we are on a growth track we are having issues involving conflict among the partners and staff. In some ways we are still operating as three law firms. Staff are not working well together and they refer to old firm and new firm. They are resistant to change and they have created personal fiefdoms. We merged to create one firm – not three – but we fear that we are still functioning as three law firms. Do you have any suggestions?


The people issue is often the major hurdle that law firms face when implementing a merger. In your situation you are now a firm of three lawyers and six staff members – nine people – a firm three times the size of the individual firms. You are now a law firm – not solo practitioners – and you must adjust you management and communication styles accordingly. Partners must begin to think in terms of firm-first rather than their individual practices or me-first. Roles need to be spelled out for the partners regarding management and leadership of the firm (structure and management plan). Roles and performance expectations should also be spelled out for the staff as well. While conflict can result from personality clashes and having the wrong people on the bus – often conflict results from unclear roles and expectations and poor communications. Fix these issues and you often will reduce the conflict. If you are not having frequently scheduled team meetings I suggest that you start having them. This will do a lot to improve communications.

You must also review your work processes and practices and consolidate as much as possible into a set of firm – rather than three firm's sets – of policies and procedures and everyone should conform to these rather than the practices of the past.


  1. Partners sitting down, discussing whether they want a firm-first v.s. a me-first firm and what they need to do to set the tone – the example – for the firm.
  2. Partners clarifying how they want to manage and lead the firm – specific roles and responsibilities for management, etc.
  3. Job descriptions outlying roles and expectations for staff.
  4. Annual performance reviews for staff. Working together and teamwork should be one of the measures.
  5. Monthly team meetings with an agenda and minutes taken.

If the conflict is due to personality or behavioral issues – confront the behavior and if necessary put the individual off the bus.

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


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