Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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September 2012

Sep 26, 2012


Hiring Entrepreneurial Associates That Can Eventually Become Equity Owners or Partners in a Law Firm

Question:

We are a Toledo, Ohio law firm with ten attorneys. We have four partners – all of which are in their 60s and approaching retirement. While our six associates are great lawyers – none bring in business nor do any of them seem to really be interested in partnership. It seems that we hired a bunch of folks that just wanted jobs and have no interest in owning a law firm. I would be interested in your ideas and thoughts.

Response:

Years ago it seemed that all the associates working in law firms wanted to eventually become a partner in the law firm. This has changed as a result of the new mix of women and men graduating from law schools and entering the legal profession, changing attitudes toward work life balance, other opportunities outside law firms, and other variables. While partnership/ownership is still important to many – don't assume that all the associates that you hire will even want to be equity partners – especially if it means a hefty capital contribution and signing personal guarantees for a large amount of firm debt.

A question that I would ask – have you really discussed with your associates their interests in equity ownership? As a group? Recently an associate, whom the firm had written off, advised me that while he was not interested now due to his present situation in life, he would be in maybe five years – especially if others also were brought in as well – in other words he did not want to have the responsibility alone and be an equity owner by himself.

I suggest that you talk with your people and see where they really stand. Help them to begin developing client development skills. Depending on you and the other partner's retirement timeline – you may have to consider other options such as laterals or merging with another firm.

A key suggestion is to look for entrepreneurial associates when you hire. The desire for ownership of a business if often in a person's blood. Don't start the interview with a discussion from law school until the present. Dig deeper into hobbies, family, etc. that will provide clues as to whether you may be hiring someone that just wants a law job or someone that eventually wants to own or be a partner in a law firm.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC 

 

Sep 17, 2012


Law Firm Production Metrics for Part-Time Associates and Paralegals

Question:

I am a partner in a small estate planning/administration law firm in Louisville, Kentucky. We are having a hard time getting a handle on determining the productivity of our associates and paralegals. Many of our associates and paralegals work part-time and the typical metrics such as 1500-1700 annual billable hours, etc. don't work for us. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions?

Response:

You might want to consider using a billable/worked ratio which is the ratio of billable hours logged to hours worked. For attorneys and paralegals that are totally focused on providing client services a good benchmark is 70%-73%. If an attorney or paralegal works 30 hours a week – you would hope to see 21-22 hours billable per week. Based on 50 weeks per year this would equate to somewhere around 1050 billable hours per year. For a full-timer working 8 hours a day or 40 hours per week – 50 weeks per year this would work out to around 1400+ hours per year. Most full-time attorneys work closer to 50+ hours a week and are expected to log between 1500-1700+ hours per year. The expectation for full time paralegals is around 1400 hours.

The 70-73% ratio is ambitious – but is achievable. For paralegals this goal will not be possible if they are loaded down with administrative duties. Excellent time management and time keeping skills and practices will need to be in place as well.

While billable hours is a starting point you also need to examine the impact of write-downs of work (adjustments prior to billing) and write-offs of bills that have been rendered to clients. In other words – what got billed and what actually was paid. Examine the billing and collection realization percentages and or the realization or effective rates for these people as well.

In addition to dollars you should also factor in quality and speed of work as well as client satisfaction scores from your end of matter client satisfaction surveys.

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

Sep 12, 2012


Job Description for A Bookkeeper – 5 Attorney Law Firm

Question:

I am the owner of a five attorney firm in Chicago. Including staff we have a total of 13 people working at the firm. As we have grown our approach to handling billing and accounting has been piecemeal. We have a combination of several people handling various tasks including a couple of outsourced vendors as well. Frankly it is a mess. I want to restructure and consolidate all the tasks and responsibilities into one bookkeeper position. Do you have a job description that would help guide me in my search?

Response:

Here is a job description that might help get your started.

Position Summary

The primary function of this position is to perform the billing, bookkeeping and accounting functions of the firm. This position requires an experienced and accomplished person with a strong bookkeeping and computer background. The position requires skills and experience in bookkeeping, accounting, law firm billing and QuickBooks software as well as Microsoft Office Products. The position requires experience in a law or other professional service firm environment.

Reporting Relationship

This position reports to the firm owner.

Required Knowledge, Abilities and Skills

1.  Must have at least 2+ years bookkeeping experience as a full-charge bookkeeper with responsibilities including client billing in a law or professional service firm environment.

2.  Must have successfully completed coursework in bookkeeping/accounting. An associate degress in bookkeeping/accounting is desirable.

3.  Must have experience with law firm billing or other professional service firm (TimeSlips or appropriate software that the firm is using) and accounting software (i.e. QuickBooks) as well as Microsoft Office Products.

4.  Must possess strong administrative and organizational skills.

5.  Must have strong interpersonal and communications skills.

6.  Professional appearance and manner.

Duties

1.  Perform all bookkeeping functions

2.  Performs all client billing functions and other accounts receivable functions

3.  Pay vendor bills and manage accounts payable.

4.  Perform all data entry of cash receipts and client costs in billing and accounting systems.

5.  Perform all data entry of cash receipts and disbursements for the IOLTA trust account in the accounting systems.

6.  Process credit card transactions.

7.  Reconcile bank statements.

8.  Work up and make bank deposits for the operating and IOLTA accounts.

9.  Handle payroll.

10.  Handle Insurance

11.  Provide all required financial reports to the firm owner on a monthly basis.

12.  Filing.

13.  Coordination with the firm's accountants.

14.  Management and oversight of the billing and accounting systems.

I hope this helps you get started.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC 

Sep 05, 2012


Selling Your Law Firm – Readying It For Sale

Question:

I am a sole practitioner in Bloomington, Illinois. My practice is general practice and most of my clients are either individuals or small businesses. I have one legal assistant and one paralegal that works for me. I am 62 and am starting to think about what to do with my practice and what I need to be thinking about concerning selling my practice. I would be interested in your suggestions.

Response:

I would start by asking yourself when you actually want to retire or quit. Do you really want to stop practicing law or do you want to work forever? Over two thirds of the solo and small firm lawyers that I speak with advise me that they want to practice forever – maybe not full throttle – but on a continued but scaled back schedule.

Review Rule 1.17 – Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct to insure that you understand the method and the restrictions involved in sale of a law practice.

If you want to continuing practicing determine whether selling your law practice is your best option given Rule 1.17. Some of our clients are exploring other options including bringing in other attorneys and forming partnerships or merging with other firms.

If you determine that selling the practice is the route you want to go here are a few ideas to begin readying it for sale:

  1. Decide when you want to retire and leave your firm.
  2. Determine who your would like to transfer the practice.
  3. Determine the your goals for sale of your practice and the priority and what is most important to you. (clients, staff, money or sweat equity, etc.)
  4. Determine how much the practice is worth today.
  5. Begin finding way to institutionalize the firm so the client and other relationships are less uniquely you.
  6. Begin implementing management practices that will systemize your firm and improve it's future value. (written procedures and policies, checklists, forms, automated case management systems, organized client files, accounting systems, etc. ) Document everything.
  7. Draft and implement a succession/exit plan and implement same. Insure that it incorporates safeguards for your clients, employees, and family if the unexpected happens to you.

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

 

 

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