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March 2015

Mar 24, 2015


Law Firm Of Counsel Compensation/Adequate Profit Margin

Question:

I am the managing partner in an eight attorney firm in Phoenix. We are contemplating bringing in a senior lawyer as an Of Counsel that wants to gradually wind down his practice. We are thinking of paying him using an eat-what-he-kills approach whereby he would be paid 40% for his personal production (collected working attorney receipts) and 20% for bringing in the client (origination). Thus, if he brought in the client and did all of the work he would get 60% of the fee. What are your thoughts?

Response:

The approach is fine and I know several law firms that use this approach and these percentages. My concern is with the percentages. Don't forget the overhead. Lets say that he collects $300,000 and that he brought in the business and did all of the work. He would get 60% of $300,000 or $180,000 and the firm would get 40% of $300,000 or $120,000. Typical overhead per lawyer is $100,000 per year or higher. If the overhead is $100,000 there would only be $20,000 profit contribution or 6.6% margin. I believe the firm should make a margin of 25%-30% from associates and Of Counsels.

Examine your overhead. I would suggest 35% on working attorney receipts and 15% for client origination.

You may believe that the overhead consumed is far less that the firm's average overhead per lawyer and that a contribution cost allocation approach allocating only variable/direct costs is more appropriate. However, there are often other costs and I find that many law firms cut themselves short, only cover their overhead, and make very little or no profit margin.

Look over your overhead and determine the profit margin that you desire and go from there.

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

 

 

 

Mar 12, 2015


Law Firm Merger Preliminaries

Question:

Our firm is a 17 attorney firm in Dayton, Ohio. Several of our founding partners are retiring and we have been contemplating exploring a merger with another law firm but are not sure where to start. I would appreciate your ideas.

Response:

Start by determining your merger objectives. Why do you want to merge? What do you hope to achieve? Is merger compatible with your strategic plan? What size of firm are you considering?

Once you are sure that merger exploration – in general – makes sense – you should insure that your house is in order. In other words – can anything be done to enhance the value and/or marketability of your firm? For example:

  1. Do you have a business or strategic plan? If not – how will you convince a potential merger partner that you have a plan for the future and know where you are going? Maybe now is a good time to work on that plan. 
  2. Work on and clean up your financials. Improve the financial performance of your practice. Eliminate deadwood. Write-off uncollectable A/R and WIP. 
  3. Avoid entering into long term commitments that might make your firm undesirable to another firm. (new long term leases, risky client matters/cases, loans, admission of new partners, unfunded partner buyouts/retirements, etc. 
  4. Enhance firm image where you can. 
  5. Develop a first class firm profile.

Next, develop a merger marketing plan and begin working the plan. Try to generate enough leads that you can explore merger with several firms rather than engaging in "random merger talks" which often result in isolated merger offers with you having no framework for comparison.

Use an outside consulting firm if you need help organizing, identifying candidates, and managing the process.

Once you have merger candidates identified – the real work begins.

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

 

Mar 10, 2015


Law Firm Financial Management – Managing the Money

Question:

I am the managing partner of a 17 attorney firm in San Francisco. We have a firm administrator that we hired four years ago and he manages our financial and HR matters. I haven't a clue as to what goes on financially and this is becoming more of a concern for me and my other partners. You thoughts would be appreciated.

Response:

I believe that is imperative that owners and partners in a law firm have access to financial information on a timely basis, understand the information, and use the information in a proactive way to manage the practice. I suggest:

  1. The owner, or an appointed partner(s) in larger firms, obtain a basic level of understanding in basic accounting/bookkeeping and law firm financial management.
  2. The owner, or an appointed partner(s) in larger firms, obtain detailed training on the accounting software system(s) along-side the bookkeeper and administrator when the system is implemented. In addition to general operation of the software, special training should also be obtained on interpretation and use of the management reports.
  3. In your current situation – this may be a good time to consider upgrading your system and at that time obtain training on the new system, review the roles of all parties, and current procedures.
  4. Insure that you have accounting controls in place and appropriate segregation of accounting duties.
  5. Outline your expectations and requirements of the bookkeeper and administrator, meet with them, and communicate appropriately.

Don't allow your administrator to create a fiefdom and hold you and your partners hostage.

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

 

Mar 03, 2015


Sale of Law Practice and Alternative Approaches

Question:

I am the owner of a solo practice located in the western Boston suburbs. I have been considering selling my practice. Do you see many practitioners selling their practices?

Response:

Yes, I am seeing many solo practitioners selling their practices. However, I also see many lawyers looking to exit their practice start by thinking that they will sell their practice. However, when all is said and done the arrangements often take one of the following arrangements:

  1. Admitting an existing associate to partnership and then having the associate buy out the owners partnership interest in a retirement payout.
  2. Bringing in an associate and mentoring and grooming them, admitting the associate to partnership when he or she is ready, and then having the associate buy out your partnership interest in a retirement payout. Sometimes partnership interests are sold gradually over time.
  3. Merger with another law firm.
  4. A wind-down of the practice and then Of Counsel relationship with another firm with a client transition/payout arrangement.

Many solo practitioners are often taken back by the inflexibility of some of the various state rules of professional conduct concerning sale of law practices and find the above approaches more flexible.

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

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