Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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April 2016

Apr 26, 2016


Law Firm Billable Hours in an Insurance Defense Firm

Question:

I am the managing partner of a 12 lawyer insurance defense firm in Oklahoma City. We have 4 partners and eight associates. While we have grown over the last five or six years by adding associates our profitability has remained flat. We feel that we are not getting the billable hours that we should out of our associates. What are other firms like ours getting out of their associates in terms of billable hours?

Response:

Most of my insurance defense firm clients expect a minimum of 1800+ annual billable hours from associates and partners. Often 1800 is a requirement to remain employed and the minimum threshold to be eligible for a performance bonus. Often I see billable hours at 2000 to 2200 in insurance defense firms.

This goal is getting harder to achieve. Insurance companies are now managing hours as well as rates and outlining their expectations in their billing requirements and guidelines. Law firms can no longer "lean on the pencil" like they used to do in the old days. In addition, if business and file assignments are down you can't expect associates to work on work that isn't there.

If you are not getting 1800 hours – the problem may not be associate work ethic – it may be that more time needs to be invested by the partners in focused business developed and bringing in more work.

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

Apr 12, 2016


Law Firm Client Satisfaction – Exceeding Client Expectations

Question:

I am owner of a four attorney firm in Amarillo, Texas. We represent both individual and institutional clients. Recently, we have had numerous complaints from clients advising us that our services took longer than expected and fees were also higher than expected. I would appreciate your thoughts?

Response:

Based upon client satisfaction surveys (telephone interviews) that we do for law firms we find that one of the biggest problems is that the attorneys are doing a poor job of managing client expectations. Your clients get frustrated when you promise one thing (timeline or fees) and the result is very different – especially when the work takes longer than promised or the fees are higher. Even though you don't structure it as a promise your clients take it that way. The key is to under promise and over deliver. I suspect that upon the initial client meeting you are under estimating the timeline and low balling the fee range. Reduce the promise – increase the - timeline and fee range and then shoot to deliver under that range. This will do wonders for improving the client relationship.

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Apr 05, 2016


Law Firm Debt – Impact of Debt and Other Liabilities Upon Future Growth Options

Question:

I am a member of a three member management committee of a 16 lawyer firm located in Akron, Ohio. We have 10 partners and 6 associates. Several of our partners are in their 50s and 60s. Recently, we have had discussions with a couple of potential merger partners and laterals and in all cases they have backed out advising us that they were uncomfortable with our balance sheet. What can we do to better position ourselves. We desperately need to bring in new talent with books of business?

Response:

First there are the obvious balance sheet items – bank debt, large tapped out credit lines, equipment leases and other liabilities. Then there are the items that are not recorded on the balance sheet – namely unfunded partner retirement buyouts and long term real estate leases. These are often major deal breakers in mergers and scare away laterals. If you have bank and other debt on the balance sheet work at cleaning it up. More importantly if you have unfunded partner buyouts begin either rethinking the desirability of these programs or begin funding this liability now with a goal of the liability being totally funded over the next five to seven years. Then shift to a retirement program that is totally funded. Unfunded partner retirement programs are becoming a thing of the past.

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

 

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