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November 2015

Nov 24, 2015


Law Firm Business Development/Marketing Manager Position

Question:

I am the managing partner of a twenty seven lawyer insurance defense firm in Orlando, Florida. In the last seven years we have grown from ten lawyers to twenty seven. Our firm is very dependent upon a handful of insurance companies and we are looking at ways to diversify our practice. Our rapid growth has caused us to outgrow our management structure. A few years ago we hired our first firm administrator to manage the business operations of the firm. We are now considering establishing a business development/marketing position to help focus our business development efforts. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Response:

I would start by giving some thought to your organizational structure overall. How and where does this position line up with the other management positions in the firm? Will the position report to the firm administrator or will the position be equal in stature to the firm administrator and report to the managing partner or executive committee? What will be the title of the position – marketing director, director of business development, business development manager, etc.? Will the position have assistants/direct reports? What are the position's performance expectations and duties?

Often law firms do not have a successful experience with their first business development/marketing manager. Typically this is a result of not taking the time to define the position, performance expectations, required skills and competencies, and hiring a candidate with the maturity and leadership required to be successful in the role.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. For the initial position – use a title similar to Business Development or Marketing Manager (Director of Business Development at such time in the future as the administrator's role grows warranting the title of Executive Director or Director of Administration).
  2. Have a position equal in stature to the Firm Administrator with both reporting to the managing partner or executive committee.
  3. Develop a sound position description

SAMPLE JOB DESCRIPTION

The business development manager is responsible for the management of all aspects of business development within the firm and supports business development initiatives within the firm. This management will occur either through direct activities, direct reports or delegation to subordinate staff. Responsibilities include but are not limited to:

  1. Develop, recommend, and manage the firm marketing plan.
  2. Supervise marketing support personnel.
  3. Support the firm, practice groups, and individual attorney's business development initiatives and programs.
  4. Recommend markets and projects to pursue.
  5. Track and follow-up firm marketing and business development leads.
  6. Manage firm business relationships.
  7. Direct internal and external firm marketing and business communications.
  8. Represent the firm at trade shows and other events.
  9. Manage marketing and business development events and activities.
  10. Write the firm newsletter.
  11. Update and maintain the firm website.
  12. Develop and maintain the firm brochure.
  13. Participate in the strategic planning process.
  14. Hire, train, and coach marketing staff, practice group chairs, and individual attorneys

Doing your homework upfront will pay dividends and insure that the position is successful.     

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

Nov 17, 2015


Law Firm Fee Increases – Should We Increase Our Fees?

Question:

I am the partner in charge of finance at our 12 attorney litigation boutique firm located in downtown Chicago. For the past two years our profits have been down and we are considering raising our rates but we are concerned that we may lose some of our corporate clients. We welcome your thoughts.

Response:

Raising fees is one approach you might consider. Clients are starting to push back more and more concerning legal fees. If you are at the high end of the rate scale I suggest that before charging off and raising rates you step back and conduct a process review by using an approach similar to the following:

  1. Pull a random representative list (by timekeeper and type of matter) of matters that have been concluded during the past six months. Say 10-20 matters.
  2. Calculate the effective hourly rates for each matter overall as well as by timekeeper class. (partner, associate, paralegal)
  3. Compare the calculated effective rate to your internal standard time billing rates as well as to external benchmarks. (Other firms from published survey data) How do they compare? What did it cost to staff the matter?
  4. Review the time detail for each of these matters and ask questions. You might want to flow chart and document the work flow. Is the firm working smart? Is time being dumped on these flat rate matters so that a timekeeper's hours look good on the production reports?  Is the firm using the right mix of paralegals and attorneys to staff the work? Is there wasted or duplicative effort? Is technology being used? Can work steps be eliminated or reduced? Should the firm consider a "limited representation" unbundled option?
  5. Pilot test a few new approaches and measure the impact upon profitability.

Keep in mind that raising fees is one way of improving profitability. There are other ways as well. In today's competitive environment. Working smarter, efficiently, and more effective is another.

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

Nov 10, 2015


Law Firm Building Ownership

Question:

I am a partner in a fourteen attorney firm in Chicago's western suburbs. We have five equity partners and nine associates. We are currently leasing office space that we have outgrown. As we are approaching the end of our lease we are considering buying our own building. We would appreciate your thoughts?

Response:

I find that many firms have difficulty dealing with all of the moving parts of buying and building out a building and the distractions and time that it takes away from the law practice. Owning your own building can provide numerous financial and tax advantages and If you decide to go this route hire professionals to help expedite the process and a real estate building management company to manage the building when it is completed.

I strongly suggest that you create a separate entity that will own the building and separate building ownership from the law firm ownership structure. I suggest that participation in ownership of the building be optional for law firm equity partners that want to invest in the building.

It is hard enough for new partners to fund their capital accounts or buy-ins without having a mandatory building buy-in. Recently I have seen a few merger and lateral partner opportunities go south as a result of buildings, real estate, and mandatory buy-ins.

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

 

 

Nov 03, 2015


Law Firm Administrator – New and Struggling

Question:

I am a new administrator in a 17 attorney law firm in the greater Boston area. I am the firm's first administrator and this is the first law firm that I have worked for as a firm administrator. I been on the job for six months and I am struggling. I don't know whether I am living up to the expectations of the partners and I feel like I am lost. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Response:

While administrators have made great strides in terms of role and acceptance during the past decade, administrators in firms of all sizes still remain frustrated with:

– Poor, slow, and ineffective decision making
– Ineffective firm leadership and governance
– Internal politics and infighting
– Micromanaging
– Management by committee
– Lack of influence and ability to effect change

Being the first administrator for a law firm is tough. In additional to proving yourself to your partners you will have the additional task of justifying the position itself. After a few months when the honeymoon is over some partners will start questioning whether the position is necessary and worth the expense. Don't assume that the partners really thought through what their expectations were for the position prior to hiring you. Don't wait for them to manage you – you must take a proactive role – initiate discussions regarding expectations and identify priorities, projects, etc. Look for low hanging fruit when you can enhance revenue or reduce costs in the short term and track any results achieved.

Few things are as important to an administrator’s future as that person’s ability to influence the decision-making process and effect change.  Skills and competencies are important but so are results. In order to transcend to the next level and enhance their value to their law firms, administrators must help their firms actually effect positive changes and improvements and improve performance. This requires selling ideas to partners in the firm and having them accept and actually implemented. To succeed administrators must achieve three outcomes:

- Provide new solutions or methods
– The firm must achieve measurable improvement in its results by adopting the solutions
– The firm must be able to sustain the improvements over time.

Click here for our blog on career management

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

 

 

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