Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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November 2012

Nov 27, 2012


Law Firm Financial Improvement Plan for 2013

Question:

Our 17 attorney firm has had less than stellar revenues and profitability for the last several years. Our billing and realization rates are in line, we have a good mix of partners and associates, we have managed our expenses effectively, and our accounts receivable are at satisfactory levels. The culprit is utilization – billable hours. Partner annual billable hours are around 1100 hours and associate billable hours are around 1300.  Everyone seems to be working hard. I would be interested in your thoughts?

Response:

Sounds like you have given the RULES (rates/realization, utilization, leverage, expenses, and speed/collection) formula careful thought and analysis. I agree that you have a problem with utilization. General guidelines for partners and associates for annual billable hours are in the 1700 range with litigation firms being much higher and smaller general practice firms being lower – sometimes in the 1500 range. However, 1100/1300 billable hours is a problem and should be looked into to determine the exact nature of the cause. Causes could be any one or a combination of the following:

  1. Insufficient work – lack of business
  2. Poor work ethic – not working hard enough
  3. Poor time management habits – lack of focus, goals, plan
  4. Poor time keeping habits – not recording the time and getting it captured in the system

Each attorney in the firm may have different problem areas. For some it may be they need to work harder. Set expectations and enforce them. Others may need more work and if work is not available their non-billable time should be focused on marketing and other firm building efforts. For those that have time management and or time keeping problems training/skill development should be provided.

Suggest you conduct a review and discussion with each attorney in the firm to identify causes and engineer an agreed to plan with each to work on appropriate problem areas. If habits need to be changed – be patient – changes in habits take practice and time.

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

Nov 13, 2012


Law Firm Succession: Approaching 70 – What Now

Question:

We are a two lawyer firm in New Orleans. We are both partners in the firm. We have 5 staff members. My partner is 68 and I am 63. Recently, we have starting thinking about what we are going to do with the practice in the next few years and we aren't sure where to start. Do you have any thoughts along these lines?

Response:

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 that you bring in and grow over the next few years. 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). If you bring in other lawyers develop them 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.

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

 

Nov 06, 2012


A Backup Up Plan for Small Law Firm Owners – Using Practice Continuation Arrangements

Question:

I am a 52 year old solo practitioner in Memphis with one non-attorney staff member. While I do have some concerns about my long term succession exit strategy my immediate concerns are more short term in nature. How do I cover and serve my clients if I take vacation, get sick, or get busy and need help? What are your thoughts?

Response:

Sound practice continuation arrangements can solve this dilemma and preserve practice value
and can help prevent a lawyer’s spouse or immediate heirs from facing a hasty sale or disposition of the practice in an emergency. A practice continuation arrangement can also give lawyer practitioners, their staff, and their family’s peace of mind.

A practice continuation arrangement is an arrangement – typically in the form of an agreement or contract – made between an individual lawyer or a small law firm and another lawyer or law firm. The arrangement describes a course of action to transfer a lawyer’s practice and sets payment for its
value. In the event of vacation, temporary or permanent disability, or death, a practice continuation arrangement protects the practice, the business interests of the lawyer or law firm’s clients and the financial interest of the lawyer and his or her family.

There are different kinds of practice continuation arrangements. Typically a lawyer enters into a one-on-one agreement with another sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, or professional corporation in the community. Agreements can range from simple “dual coverage for each other” for vacation or other temporary absences to sale of the practice in the event of long term disability or death.

Look around for another solo practitioner or law firm that you can partner up with.

Click here for our blog on succession topics 

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

 

 

 

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