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December 2012

Dec 18, 2012


Law Firm Start-Up – First Steps

Question:

I am a non-equity partner in a large law firm in LA. I have been practicing for 15 years and with the recent economic turmoil we have experienced in our firm, downsizing, and overall uncertainty I have recently been considering starting my own firm. What are initial steps in starting up a law firm?

Response:

While there is an entire list of start-up steps that need to be taken when launching a law firm here are a few to get you started and the order to be taken:

  1. Create a business plan – even if only a few pages – for the firm. Your plan will serve as a roadmap for your practice. Your mission should address what services you are selling, where you are selling them, and to whom. Your plan should address your competitive strategy – how you will be different than your competitors. It should also identify your core values. A vision for 5 years out into the future as to where you would like to see the firm and specific goals and objectives should be formulated.
  2. Select your firm name. Think long and hard about your firm name. What name will have staying power as you grow? Will it play well with internet search engines? Can you get your firm name as a internet domain name? Determine organizational form and incorporate into firm name and branding.
  3. Staffing. Determine whether you will hire staff initially and your staffing needs going forward. Incorporate into your office space, furniture and furnishings, and equipment needs.
  4. Office. Decide on office space, negotiate your lease, and obtain your business address. Commence on the process to make space ready and furnish and equip.
  5. Business Identity. Hire a graphic design firm to begin the design of your business identity and carry this design plan into all of your collateral marketing materials including web site, letterhead, office signage, business cards, etc.
  6. Banking and Registrations. Obtain FEIN number(s), register business with required organizations, file organizational documents, open bank accounts.
  7. Website. Develop a first class web site that demonstrates expertise.
  8. Furnishings and Equipment. Begin selecting office furniture and furniture as well as equipment, computers, software, etc.
  9. Insurance. Obtain all needed insurance including premises liability, malpractice insurance, medical, life, workers compensation, disability, etc. Insure that you obtain appropriate tail coverage with your malpractice insurance.
  10. Start-Up Project Plan. Maintain a project plan for all of the activities and tasks and monitor weekly as the plan unfolds.

Good luck on your journey!

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

Dec 11, 2012


Law Firm Management – Planning Ideas for 2013

Question:

Our 16 attorney firm is having our first planning retreat next week to plan for 2013. I have been charged with putting together the agenda and program. Do you have any suggestions that we as a firm might consider or think about adopting? 

Response:

  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. Find ways to focus the firm and foster accountability from all.
  5. Undertake a few projects at a time that can be realistically accomplished. Delegate tasks across the firm.
  6. 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.

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

Dec 04, 2012


Ideas For Law Firms Desiring to Take On More Contingency Fee Work

Question:

Our firm is a 18 lawyer general practice firm in the western Chicago suburbs. Recently, we are beginning to take on more personal injury cases on a contingency fee work which is creating some cash flow strain. Do you have suggestions regarding firms doing contingency fee work?

Response:

Contingency-fee work can pose major risks for law firms, as they earn no fees if they lose those cases and sometimes have profits deferred in protracted litigation. In addition, cases can be lost with no fee whatsoever recevied. Whether your firm is considering "big deal" litigation or bread and butter run of the mill personal injury litigation you may want to consider the following:

  1. Don't dabble in contingency fee work. Take it seriously and insure that your case portfolio is adequately diversified.
  2. Reduce case portfolio risk and improve case profitability by implementing a sound case intake system to insure that you are selecting quality cases.
  3. Realize that you have to spend money to make money and that you simply may not have the financial resources to take on certain cases. Learn how to say no and when to refer these cases out to others.
  4. Insure that you have an adequate portfolio of cases (number of cases, size and type) to insure diversification and manage risk.
  5. Analyze the profitability and return on each case and ascertain what can be done differently on future cases. Typical metrics include effective rate and/or LODESTAR.

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

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