Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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June 2014

Jun 23, 2014


Law Firm Decision-Making and Governance – Two Partner Firm

Question:

Another attorney and I are planning on starting a law practice together. He has a larger book of business and he has ten years more experience that I have. Initially he will have a 60% ownership interest and I will have 40%. Compensation will be determined based upon these ownership percentages. How do you suggested that we structure our decision-making and governance?

Response:

I would not recommend using ownership percentages for decision-making and governance. I suggest that you be equal partners in this regard – one head – one vote. Of course this would mean that if you actually took a formal vote you could be deadlocked. Hopefully, the two of you have similar goals and a common desired sense of direction for the firm. If so, you should be able to come together most of the time using a consensus approach. When you can't – some give and take will be required. If you can't the firm may not last.

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

Jun 14, 2014


Law Firm Succession: Buying Out the Owner of a Personal Injury Plaintiff Practice

Question:

I am the founder and owner of a personal injury plaintiff practice located in Lexington, Kentucky. I have two associates and four support staff members. All of our cases are handled on a contingency fee basis and our swings in fee collections from year to year can be substantial. I am 64 and would like to transition my practice and retire within the next three years. Both of my associates would like to take over my practice. I believe I am entitled to compensation for my practice and am desiring a fair buy-out. I would appreciate hearing your ideas concerning a buy-out approach.

Response:

You could look at the value of your practice from either a historical or a future perspective. Personally, if I were a law firm or your associates I would be more interested in the future perspective. In other words what fee revenues/cash flows will the practice generate over the next three to five years? In traditional time bill/flat fee firms a multiple of gross revenue is often used as a proxy. In a contingency fee firm such as yours the primary value beyond cash-based book value is the expected value of your cases. Sometimes a firm is able to review a list of cases and estimate the expected value of these cases or estimate a fee range per case. (High-Low, or Conservative-Optimistic estimate).

More often than not it is simply not possible to estimate the value of the cases until they are concluded. In this situation the values will be determined in the future as the cases are settled. If this method is used you would provide a list of cases in progress at the time of your retirement and when the cases are concluded apply a ratio of the time the case was with the firm before and after your exit, apply an overhead factor, and apply your ownership percentage to determine your share of the fee for that case. Your share of the case fees as the cases settle and cash-based book value is your buy-out.

Of course in the end you will have to balance your buy-out against what your associates are willing to pay. If your deal is too high you may run them off – if you make it too low you are leaving money on the table and not realizing the value of your sweat equity.

Click here for our blog on succession

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

 

Jun 11, 2014


Law Firm Accounting – Structure of General Ledger Chart of Accounts

Question:

I am the newly elected managing partner of a twelve attorney business transactional firm in St. Louis. The firm is trying to implement a more disciplined approach to financial management. I have been charged with developing our first budget and I am having difficulties due to the overall structure of our general ledger. Our system was setup by our outside accountant and the expense accounts lump too many expenses into too few categories. Do you have any suggestions?

Response:

This is a typical problem that I see in many firms. Accountants often setup law firm accounting systems to facilitate preparation of income tax returns as opposed to systems designed to facilitate internal management accounting, budgeting, etc. Often too many expenses are lumped into single categories or are not assigned to categories based up cost behavior. The attached sample general ledger chart of accounts has been a standard recommended for use in law firms for many years by law firm management consultants, the Association of Legal Administrators, and others. Click here for a sample general ledger chart of accounts

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

 

Jun 03, 2014


Law Firm Policies and Procedures

Question:

I am a solo practitioner in Central Illinois. As my staff seems to expand, I feel a need to become more formal.  I have a question about nondisclosure agreements with staff?  Also office procedures or rules?   Also in hiring I am finding less and less candidates that lack any experience in a legal setting. The Illinois State Bar Association Law Practice Management Section may want to consider a half day program that is internet based to acquaint staff who have office experience but no legal experience with some of the basic issues including nomenclature, confidentiality, basic legal drafting, etc.

Response:

Our committee has not addressed this of late – we may have years ago and if we did there might be an article in the dark past in the Bottom Newsletter which is the newsletter of the Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics. 

Most of my law firm clients are addressing the topic usually in their office policy handbook as opposed to a separate document. You might want to begin to put together both an office policy (employee handbook) as well as a "how to procedural manual" as well.

Suggest that the office policy (employee handbook), in addition to other topics, cover policies on:

Have a sign-off page in the Policy (Employee Handbook) and have each employee acknowledge that they have read said policies and file a copy in each employee's personnel file.

ABA has a book on Office Policies and Procedures that can be purchased that you might find helpful: 

http://shop.americanbar.org/eBus/Store/ProductDetails.aspx?productId=218026

Thanks for the suggestion regarding the CLE. I am the CLE coordinator for our committee – so I will bring up the topic and see what the group thinks.

Click here for our blog on career management

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

 

 

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