Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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September 2014

Sep 30, 2014


Law Firm Capitalization – What is the Proper Level for Partner Capital Accounts

Question:

I am the chair of the finance committee for our firm – 17 attorney firm in Chicago. We have 6 equity partners in the firm. We are in the process of admitting a new equity partner and are reviewing our capital accounts and trying to determine our capital needs. I would appreciate your ideas and thoughts.

Response:

There are two categories of capital – short-term or working capital which is used to fund daily operations and long term capital which is used to pay for capital assets such as furniture and fixtures, computers and other office equipment. I guess I am old school but I believe that short term working capital should be funded as much as possible with partner capital and long term capital funded with bank borrowing or leases. I have more and more clients that are funding working capital with partner capital and have no bank debt at all. I have other clients that finance all working capital with their bank line of credit – these firms could find themselves in dire straits if bank credit should tighten in the future.

The amount of working capital needed by a firm depends upon your practice, billing and collection cycles, whether you do contingency fee work, and whether the firm is growing and adding attorneys and staff. As a rule of thumb I suggest that a firm have three times one month's expenses excluding draws in working capital. This would need to be increased if the firm has lengthy billing and collection cycles, does contingency fee work, and is in a growth mode.

Partner capital contributions are usually made proportionately based on partner earnings or ownership percentages.

Click here for our blog on financial management

Click here for articles on other topics

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

Sep 24, 2014


Law Firm Business Development – Individual Attorney Personal Branding

Question:

I am the owner and founder of a 7 attorney personal injury plaintiff firm in the southwest. Over the years we have become the "go to" PI firm in the area. We have an extensive advertising program including TV, radio, and other mediums. I bring in all the business and the other six associate attorneys are primarily worker bees. I have discouraged business development by the associates and now as I approach my retirement years I am realizing that this may have been a mistake and it make take more than a "firm brand" for the firm to transition to the next generation. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Response:

While I believe that a solid firm brand is important and can provide practice value when you transition and retire from the practice of law the failure of your attorneys to develop their own brands or identities will make the transition more difficult and could even result in your firm becoming a "one generation law firm". Clients of law firms tell us they hire lawyers – not law firms. Even through you advertise – your reputation and rainmaking skills have had a lot to do with your success. Your associates must develop their reputations and hone their rainmaking skills as well and you need to help them do this. Here are a few ideas:

  1. If you do not have a marketing plan for the firm – develop one. This will help focus the firm's initiatives and serve as the glue for individual attorney personal plans.
  2. Announce that business development is important and that business development goals and plans will be developed for associates and incorporated into performance reviews and compensation determinations.
  3. Initiate business development training sessions for associates.
  4. Require each associate to prepare a personal marketing plan (business development plan) each year. These plans should be goal driven with specific SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and on a date specific timeline), approved by you, results monitored quarterly, and incorporated into annual performance reviews and compensation determinations.
  5. Get your associates networking, writing blogs and articles, speaking, and press coverage when possible on case results.

Click here for our blog on marketing 

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

 

 

Sep 16, 2014


Law Firm Staffing & Growth Models – Mergers (Small Firm Acquisitions) & Branching

Three weeks ago I was asked by the managing partner of a 16 attorney insurance defense firm about staffing and growth models for an insurance defense firm and I listed the following models and discussed the first model – grow your own associate staffing. Over the past two weeks in other posts I have discussed models 2-5.

Attorney staffing/growth models include:

  1. Grow Your Own Associate Staffing
  2. Lateral Associate Staffing
  3. Contract – Staff Associate Staffing
  4. Lateral Partners (Equity or Non-Equity)
  5. Of Counsel (Various Approaches and Purposes)
  6. Mergers (Or Small Firm Acquisitions)
  7. Branching

This week I will outline the pros and cons for number 6 and 7 – Mergers and Branching.

Mergers (or small firm acquisitions)

PROS

  1. Quicker access to talent, expertise in a new practice area, and client book of business.
  2. Access to infrastructure and resources.
  3. May enable the firm to fill in weak spots quickly.

CONS

  1. Risks of a wrong business marriage. (The larger the target firm the greater the risks)
  2. Issues involving integrating the firms.
  3. Control issues.
  4. Conflict of interest issues.
  5. Compensation – money, approaches, etc.
  6. Cultural incomptability
  7. Management time to evaluate the feasibility of the merger.

Branching

  1. Using approaches listed above.

The appropriate strategy is often a mix or combination of the above approaches. Need to drill down into the financials and review past experience concerning breakeven point for profitability of your attorneys, costs/overhead, fee collections, time, and profit margin.

Often the WHO dictates the WHAT (specific strategy)

Click here for our blog on law firm mergers

Click here for our law firm management articles

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

Sep 09, 2014


Law Firm Staffing and Growth Models – Lateral Partners & Of Counsel

Two weeks ago I was asked by the managing partner of a 16 attorney insurance defense firm about staffing and growth models for an insurance defense firm and I listed the following models and discussed the first model – grow your own associate staffing.

Attorney staffing/growth models include:

  1. Grow Your Own Associate Staffing
  2. Lateral Associate Staffing
  3. Contract – Staff Associate Staffing
  4. Lateral Partners (Equity or Non-Equity)
  5. Of Counsel (Various Approaches and Purposes)
  6. Mergers (Or Small Firm Acquisitions)
  7. Branching

This week I will outline the pros and cons for number 4 and 5 – Lateral Partners (Equity or Non-Equity) and Of Counsel.

Lateral Partners (Equity or Non-Equity

PROS

  1. Maybe a quicker way to increase profitability and cash flow.
  2. Allows the firm to acquire talent that it may not have time to grow or develop.
  3. Allows the firm to expand into new areas if the candidate has said experience and brings a book of business with him or her.

CONS

  1. Desired compensation may not fit within the firm's existing compensation structure.
  2. Clients may not come or materialize.
  3. May be issues with cultural fit.
  4. Costs may not be justified.

Of Counsel – Various Approaches and Purposes

  1. Allows the firm to acquire partner level talent, business, etc. without offering partnership.
  2. Provides the firm with a way to acquire a practice of someone wanting to retire.
  3. Provides the firm with a way to pilot test new lateral partner candidates and evaluate in a first-phase approach.
  4. Provides the firm with a way to partner with other firms.
  5. Provides a way for the firm to enter more new market areas.

Other models to be discussed in upcoming posts.

Click here for our article on hiring associate attorneys

Click here for our law firm management articles

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

 

    

Sep 02, 2014


Law Firm Staffing and Growth Models – Lateral Associate Staffing & Contract Associate Staffing

Last week I was asked by the managing partner of a 16 attorney insurance defense firm about staffing and growth models for an insurance defense firm and I listed the following models and discussed the first model – grow your own associate staffing.

Attorney staffing/growth models include:

  1. Grow Your Own Associate Staffing
  2. Lateral Associate Staffing
  3. Contract – Staff Associate Staffing
  4. Lateral Partners (Equity or Non-Equity)
  5. Of Counsel (Various Approaches and Purposes)
  6. Mergers (Or Small Firm Acquisitions)
  7. Branching

This week I will outline the pros and cons for number 2 and 3 – Lateral Associate Staffing and Contract – Staff Associate Staffing

Lateral Associate Staffing

PROS

  1. Less training and mentoring time
  2. Will become profitable more quickly – maybe a year sooner
  3. They will be more acceptable to clients than new untrained associates
  4. May be able to charge higher billing rates
  5. Tradeoff of higher salary vs. quicker profitability and cash flow – sooner profitability may pay for itself in the short term depending upon the salary differential.
  6. May generate new ideas and skill sets/approaches/insights that can benefit the firm.

CONS

  1. May have to de-train them. They may bring practices and approaches that are undesirable to the firm
  2. Higher salary initially and expectations for more
  3. Sooner expectations for non-equity and or equity partnership
  4. Clients may not allow you to charge any more for these associates than new young associates
  5. May not result in higher profitability and cash flow any sooner than new associates (probably will – but if not costs will be higher)

Contract – Staff Associate Staffing

PROS

  1.  Allows the firm to staff up when needed using a project/matter staffing approach
  2. Allows the firm to better manage fixed costs and manage contract staffing as a variable cost and match costs to staffing needs
  3. Allows the firm to evaluate candidates before committing to full-time positions
  4. Can be experienced and seasoned or not

CONS

  1. Cost per hour will probably be higher
  2. Turnover due to uncertainty as to their future

Other models to be discussed in upcoming posts.

Click here for our article on hiring associate attorneys

Click here for our law firm management articles

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

 

    

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