Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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March 2013

Mar 26, 2013


Sale of Law Practice – Proper Timing

Question:

I am a sole owner of a 4 attorney law firm located in Washington, D.C. Our practice concentrates on estate planning and administration. We have 6 support staff members. I just turned 60 the first of the month and am beginning to think about what I will eventually do with the practice. None of the associate attorneys are interested in partnership or in purchasing the practice – they just want jobs – they are not interested in owning a law practice. When is the best time for me to sell my practice?

Response:

You really have to give some thought to your timeline – how long do you want to work? Do you plan on pursuing another career? Have you put enough money away so you can simply retire without concern about the need to generate additional income?

If you need revenue for an additional ten years – a way to earn it – and if you enjoy what you are doing – then it will not be in your interest to sell the practice too early. Let's say you could sell your practice for one million dollars – this might equate to two years of earnings. If you worked another ten years – you could have earned five million dollars.

To a large extent owning a law firm is in essence a job where you work for a living where you have provided employment for yourself. It might be hard to find a job that pays as well as your firm. So if you need revenue for another ten years and your enjoy your work – you should probably plan on working another ten years. Build you timetable to sell your practice around your future work timeline. Things change – you may find that your associates change their mind or down the road you may end up with new hires that will have an interest in partnership.

Start with planning out how long you want or need to work and go from there.

Click here for our blog on succession/exit strategies

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

 

Mar 19, 2013


Law Firm Lateral Partner: Size of Book of Business

Question:

I am a partner in a mid-size firm in Memphis. We have 250 attorneys in the firm and I am considering making a move to a smaller firm. While I have a client base I am not sure how much business would go with me. I am currently making $600k in compensation. With my experience – 25 years plus – how important is a book of business initially? How big of a book will firms be looking for?

Response:

A portable book of business is critical – especially if you are looking to earn what you have been earning. A rule of thumb for many of the lateral moves that we have seen for compensation is 1/3 of book. You will need a book of $1.5 to $2.0 million to generate interest from major players.

Click here for our blog on laterals and mergers

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

Mar 12, 2013


Partner Compensation – Two Attorney Start-up Firm

Question:

I am a solo practitioner in Chicago. I've been offered by another solo to join him as a partner, and was wondering if you could suggest any articles or books I could look at to think about how to structure the partnership.  We bill about the same number of hours, but his rate is 50% higher than mine (300 v 200) and he has 20 years on me in age and experience.

Response:

I am a believer in true partnerships as they seem to work best and the compensation system that seems to work the best is where the partners share and share alike the profits based upon their ownership percentage. Initially a percentage is agreed upon based upon the revenue/profit
history and experience that each brings to the firm. If the level of contribution changes over time you talk about it and the percentages are adjusted. You may want to start by looking at your fees and profits over the last five years and compare them to his and use this as a starting point. Consideration should also be given to his experience. Hours don t matter as much as dollars. Then determine that ratio. Often in an arrangement such as this, depending on the ratio, it might be a 60%/40% split. If this is what you agree to then establish your capital accounts in accordance with that ratio (initial firm investment in the form of cash or other assets) and then split profits according to this split. Over the years adjust as needed. If you have a healthy partnership you will be comfortable discussing this subject.

Other approach if you want to be lone rangers would be a formula eat-what-you kill approach.

Here are my blogs on this topics generally:

https://www.olmsteadassoc.com/blog/category/compensation/ 

Here are a couple specific blogs:

 https://www.olmsteadassoc.com/blog/2009/05/  

https://www.olmsteadassoc.com/blog/law-firm-eat-what-you-kill-partner-compensation-systems

Click here for articles on other topics

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

 

Mar 05, 2013


Law Firm Partner Conflict: Ideas for Resolution

Question:

We are based in Kansas City, Missouri. We have two partners, two associates, 5 staff members, and have been together for 6 years. The firm is the result of a merger of each of the two partner's practices a few years ago. The integration has not gone well. We are quite polarized. Each partner operates as a separate island, does his own thing without regard for the other partner, and staff follow suit. Each partner has very different practice values, approaches to practice, and goals. Conflict has escalated to the point when productivity and profitability has suffered and everyone is miserable. Would you share your thoughts?

Response:

Conflict is not always bad – sometimes conflict can actually be productive if it can be effectively managed. Destructive conflict on the other hand can destroy a small law firm. I often try to look at conflict from both a micro and macro point of view.

From a micro perspective I would look at the individuals themselves. Are their personalities compatible? Do each of the partners have the same vision for the firm and share similar core values, propensity for risk taking, need for control and tolerance for ambiguity?

From a macro perspective I would look at some of the organization and structural characteristics of the firm. This might include internal communications systems, interdependence of work tasks, clarity of job roles and responsibilities in the firm, decision-making, resource sharing, etc. Often people are stepping over each other and if we change some of the structural elements we can resolve the source of the conflict.

It is easier to fix and resolve macro level conflict than micro – individual – personality caused conflict. Your situation sounds like micro – individual – personality caused conflict and general incompatibility. Unless your firm wants to operate as a "long ranger" firm operating essentially as independent practices you may want think long and hard if it makes sense to continue the partnership.

Click here for our blog on partnership matters

Click here for articles on other topics

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

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