Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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February 2014

Feb 25, 2014


Law Firm Partners That Won’t Embrace Technology

Question:

I am the managing partner of an 8 attorney general practice firm located in Charleston, South Carolina. We have done a pretty good job of investing in technology. I am having problems getting our older partners to personally use the technology and this has resulted is our attorney staff ratios and resulting overhead to be higher than it should be. They seem to think that doing their own work is beneath them and want to have their own personal assistants. I would appreciate any thoughts that you have on the matter.


Response:

Few firms can afford the luxury of each attorney having their own secretary/assistant. The economics no longer support such staffing. Many firms today are operating with much leaner attorney/staff ratios – typically two to three attorneys for each secretary/assistant – some firms have four attorneys to each secretary/assistant. I suggest you build the economic case, encourage, train, and motivate these partners to learn how to use and to actually use the technology and if all else fails offset the economic impact as a direct charge against their compensation.

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

 

Feb 18, 2014


Law Firm Merger – Should We Merge

Question:

Our firm is a 16 attorney insurance defense firm in Central Illinois. We have 8 partners and 8 associates. We are in second generation, have inherited our existing clients from the original founders, and currently have no rainmakers. We need to bring some rainmakers into our partner ranks and have been discussing the possibility of merger. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Response:

While mergers can be a valid option making them work is often another matter. Research indicates that one third to one half of all mergers fail to meet expectations due to cultural misalignment and personnel problems. Don't try to use a merger or acquisition as a life raft, for the wrong reasons and as your sole strategy. Successful mergers are based upon a sound integrated business strategy that creates synergy and a combined firm that produces greater client value than either firm can produced alone.

There can be a whole list of reasons for failure including poor financial performance, attorney defections, loss of key clients, and leadership and management issues. However, it has been our experience that most failures have been the result of poor cultural fit. The merging firms – after they have moved past conflict checks and excitement about new client potential – jump immediately to an examination of practice economics and the financials. They fail to perform proper due diligence on the people. It is critical that firms insure that cultural due diligence is a key component of the merger assessment process. Philosophies, personalities, and life styles should be generally compatible. The partners should like each other and the deal should make sense.

The question is not the what (merge) but the who (people).

I would suggest that you consider a lateral strategy as well as a merger strategy and let the WHO and right fit direct your thought process. Also insure that you have fully explored whether you have really developed the business development potential of the partners you have now.

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

 

Feb 11, 2014


Law Firm Business Models – Alternatives to Consider

Question:

Our firm located in Grand Rapids, Michigan consists of 12 attorneys – 8 partners and four associates. We are a litigation firm and a relatively young firm. We started the firm six years ago as a result of several of us leaving larger law firms and wanting to start something new and different. We have been discussing our current approach to law practice and want to consider alternative business models. We would appreciate your thoughts?

Response:

The current economic climate has caused law firms to question many of the fundamental business models that have served at the core of law firm practice management for many years. Many law firms are exploring revolutionary business models while other firms are actively discussing whether changes to their traditional approaches are needed. 

Suggest that you start by conducting a review of the following areas and develop strategies for each area:

The key is to look for ways that you can differentiate yourself, make your firm distinctive, establish a lasting competitive advantage, and determine your competitive strategy.

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

 

Feb 04, 2014


Law Firm Succession – Is There any Real Future Value in My Solo Practice?

Question:

I am a 64 year old solo practitioner in Arlington, Virginia. There are no other attorneys in the firm – I have one legal assistant. My practice is concentrated in estate planning and estate administration. I have just started giving thought to retirement and what to do with my practice. I want to provide continuity for my clients, security for my employee, and salvage any sweat equity from my practice if there is even such a thing? Personally, I question whether there is any potential for receiving any value from the practice – I think when you are done – you are done? What are your thoughts?

Response:

It all depends upon the practice, not waiting too long, and finding the right WHO.  About a year ago I had this discussion with an owner of a practice and he held the position that when you are done – you are done. However, after we assisted him with a year-long hunt – he successfully sold his practice for a multiple of 1.0 times average of the last five years fee revenue with 85% paid at closing and the remainder paid out over three years.

Another sole owner recently sold a practice for $50,000 at closing and 20% of gross practice revenue for five years paid when fees collected.

So I believe if you don't wait too long and take the time to look for the right WHO – value from your sweat equity can be realized.

However, if you don't do your homework and start early – you are right – when you are done – you are done.

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

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