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January 2015

Jan 28, 2015


Law Firm Succession – Succession Plan for the Solo Practitioner

Question:

I came across your firm while researching law partnerships. The short story is as follows: I am a sole practitioner and have been practicing for over 35 years. I have a high volume practice and I employ 7-8 people. Business is good and actually on the rise. I have a great office manager and outstanding loyal staff. The practice is on semi- autopilot for me. I have a young associate lawyer in my office that shares space and is  learning my practice but actually seems to be making his own way in a different practice area. He wants to buy into my practice. We have had some serious talks. He's capable and I think the right person to transition with. I have asked myself why sell/partner/transition when I don't have to? I am not ready to retire. With that said a 3-5 year plan may make sense. Let me know your thoughts.

Response:

The real value for most practitioners is the cash flow from working in the practice. Exit value is secondary and only makes sense when you are ready to quit or retire.

Eventually, however you will retire (retirement, death, etc.) as the clock runs. The biggest problem that I am finding is that practitioners that are ready to exit the practice is finding attorneys willing to buy the practice or buy out partnership shares in the event of a partnership. I am working with practices where is has taken a couple of years to find the right WHO and this often dictates the WHAT – merger, partnership, Of Counsel, sale, etc. The approach that works best is an internal transition via bringing an associate into partnership. So, I would take a serious look at the attorney that you are speaking about, maybe have him become a partner (member in a LLC) with minority interest initially, and incorporate into your agreements how compensation will be handled, him acquiring additional interests down the road, and the arrangement for your retirement payout upon your actual retirement.

Don't wait until you are ready to retire – take some baby steps now.

Good luck with it.

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

Jan 20, 2015


Law Firm Hiring Practices – Pros and Cons of Hiring Lawyers that are Children of Firm Partners

Question:

I am a partner in a four partner firm located in Houston. We have three associates in the firm. One of our partners has a son just finishing law school and he would like him to join the firm. We have never had children of partners work in the firm before and I am concerned about setting a precedent. We have a good relationship among all of the attorneys and I do not want to see our relationship tarnished. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Response:

I have seen it go both ways. Many firms have brought children and other family members into the firm and have had excellent results. Others have not. In general I believe that law firms do a better job at this than do other business firms. Your situation is more complicated since you have associates in place that may feel threatened and uncertain as to their futures when you bring in family members. I believe that if you lay the proper foundation and go about it correctly you can successfully bring your children into the firm. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Recognize that for the family members there will be a family system, the family law firm, and an overlapping of these systems. This can be fertile ground for conflict if clear boundaries between the family role and the firm (business) role are not clear. Establish clear boundaries. Family dynamics and business dynamics seldom mix. Your objective should be to draw the clearest possible distinction between the two and make sure that everyone understands that the firm (business) is the firm and the family is the family.
  2. Children should not be brought into the firm unless they want to be involved and satisfy your standard hiring criteria for lawyers. I believe that before your children join the family law firm it is a good idea for them to work for another firm or organization. When they do join the family firm they can bring with them that experience, a supply of new ideas, a network of contacts, and a number of other benefits acquired.
  3. Make it clear to your children that they must "earn their stripes" and come up through the ranks in the same fashion as other associates in the firm. No special privileges. Make it clear that they must earn the respect of other attorneys and staff in the firm.
  4. Put your associates and staff at ease. Make it clear that your children are expected to "earn their stripes" and they will not be promoted to partner over other associates on family status alone. (Unless this is your intent)
  5. Clearly define the role of all parties.
  6. Monitor your own behavior. Don't take sides – either between your children if both join the firm or between your children and other employees in the firm.
  7. Be careful with compensation and other rewards. Compensation should be based up performance and results and consistent and competitive with other law firms of similar size and type.
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate – your intentions, roles, etc. before and after your children join the firm.

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Good luck! 

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

Jan 07, 2015


Law Firm Marketing – Focusing on a Niche

Question:

I am with a 17 attorney general business firm located in Boston and chair of the firm's three member marketing committee. At this year's planning retreat we discussed the concept of niche marketing and whether we should focus on a specific niche. Your thoughts would be appreciated.


Response:

A niche marketing strategy can help you stand out from the crowd by focusing on a particular segment. Here is an outline of a typical niche marketing program.

  1. Reach Out to Existing and Potential Referral Sources
    1. Contact existing and past client that would be willing to provide leads, give you written testimonials/references and involve you in their professional and trade associations
    2. Contact non-client influentials – attorneys, bankers, editors, executive directors of industry associations, media, and community leaders and work with these people.
    3. Existing practice profile and factors as well as referral sources form the bedrock of a law firm.
  2. Targets of Opportunity
    1. Additional targets of influence
  3. Offer Silver Bullets – Solutions to hot button issues that potential clients have.
  4. Targeting a Niche
    1. Selecting a Niche Target
      1. Size
      2. Location/Zip Codes
      3. Type of Business/Industry
      4. Practice Area
      5. Competitors
    2. Develop an insider understanding of the niche industry (industry success factors)
      1. Critical success factors
      2. Key ratios
      3. Key publications of the niche
      4. Writing, speaking, leveraging memberships with key organizations
    3. Objectives and desired outcomes
    4. Prospective niche client profile
    5. Library of niche publications
    6. Niche database
      1. Existing clients
      2. Prospective clients
      3. Non-client influentials

Often a niche strategy does not involve a new area of practice – it may involve delivering services that you already perform – but marketed to a specific industry group. In essence you are learning the unique needs of a specific industry group, learning their language, and demonstrating that you understand their business better than your competition. An example would by an insurance defense firm that handles the defense for a couple of trucking cases and then creates a niche around the trucking industry.

Place your niche marketing strategy carefully. It takes time, financial resources, and commitment to successfully pull off a niche marketing strategy. Don't try to focus on more than one or two niche markets and insure that the niche that you are targeting is large enough to satisfy your objectives and justify the time and resources that you will be required to invest.

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

 

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