Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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May 2016

May 31, 2016


Law Firm Succession – Transitioning Clients to the Next Generation

Question:

I am a member of a three-member executive committee for a 34 lawyer firm in Austin, Texas. We have been in practice for over one hundred years. While we have had partners retire in the past with no issues we are now facing a situation where seven partners are approaching retirement at the same time and each of them controls significant books of business. What can the firm do to ensure that retiring partners properly transition their clients so the firm can continue to flourish after the partners are no longer here? We would appreciate your thoughts.

Response:

This is problem that many law firms are facing as baby boomers approach retirement. Rather than one or two partners coming up for retirement many firms are experiencing a "bunching of retirees" all at the same time. This can have a significant impact upon cash flow planning, client development, and attorney talent management.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Access your lawyer talent pool to insure that you have people in place that can service the needs of the retiring partner's clients. If your talent pool is insufficient develop a strategy (lateral recruitment, merger, etc.) and develop a plan for locating lateral/merger opportunities.
  2. If the firm does not have a plan for dealing with the upcoming partners retirements and the transition of their clients write a client transition plan and commence its implementation. The plan should include an action plan that is structured like a project plan with beginning and ending dates, specific times, and individuals assigned to specific tasks. The plan should serve to keep things moving over a three to five year transition time period.
  3. Your committee should be communicating with your partners approaching retirement, talking with them about their goals and timelines concerning retirement, and getting them to commit to a date certain even if it is many years into the future.
  4. The compensation should include incentives that encourages retiring partners to transition rather than hoard clients.
  5. Determine a shortlist of who in the firm should take over clients.
  6. Begin client introductions to successor attorneys early. Go deep with relationship building – not just a simple introduction. Your committee and the retiring partners should monitor and follow-up with successors to insure that they are developing relationships with these clients.
  7. Assign co-responsible attorneys to all matters that a retiring partner is assigned.

There are a lot of other ideas that you can explore. The key point is to communicate with your senior partners, get them thinking about retirement rather than pushing it under the rug so there is a three to five year transition period, and start early. I have seen too many situations where a partners walks in and announces that he wants to retire in the sixty days, six months, or one year. This is not enough time if the firm wants to retain retiring partner's books of business.

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

 

May 24, 2016


Law Firm Marketing – Using Webinars to Market an Estate Planning Practice

Question:

I am the managing partner of a six attorney boutique estate planning practice located in Madison, Wisconsin. We had a great year last year financially as we have the last several years. However, this year (2016) we are off to a terrible start. Our new matter intakes are down by twenty-five percent. We have a very proactive marketing program – print advertisements, directory listings, top notch website, and we do seminars for prospective clients. I know other estate planning attorneys that do more seminars than we do. Should we be doing more seminars? I would appreciate your insight. 

Response:

I have other estate planning law firm clients telling me that their new client intakes are down this year as well. I think it is a demand/timing issue. Regardless of the amount of advertising I find that most estate planning firms receive the bulk of their clients from past client referrals, referrals from friends, and referrals from other professionals including lawyers. Some of my estate planning law firm clients that spend the least on advertising are the most successful financially.

Regarding seminars, I believe they are not having the same impact that they did in the past. More and more people are going to the internet for information and content. State Bar Associations are reporting that more and more CLE programs are being delivered electronically via the internet in the form of webcasts and webinars. College degrees, law degrees, and LLM degrees are being offered via the internet. I believe that traditional face-to-face seminars will draw less qualified prospective clients than in the past.

I would still look for opportunities to "partner up" with organizations that are willing to sponsor seminars but I would resist the temptation to sponsor and fund seminars yourself.

You might want to experiment with sponsoring your own educational webinars for clients and prospective clients and look into webinar products such as www.GoToWebinar.com. The expense would be minimal and you may have better results.

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

 

 

 

May 17, 2016


Law Firm Equity Partner Capital Contribution

Question:

I am the sole owner of a twenty-five attorney litigation boutique firm in Los Angeles. I am the only equity partner with nine non-equity partners and fifteen associates. I am concerned that if I don't provide a path to equity partnership some of my senior talent many gradually defect to other firms or split off to create their own law firms. I also believe that providing a path to equity partner for deserving non-equity partners is the right thing to do. Therefore, I am planning on admitting two non- equity members this year. Should I require capital contributions?

Response:

I believe that all new partners should be expected to contribute capital and have some "skin in the game." Whenever a firm admits a new partner, the firm should require the new partner to contribute capital. Increasingly, a partner's capital requirement should bear a relationship to the partner's share of profits. You may want to allow new partners a reasonable period of time to fund their capital accounts – say one or two years via a capital note or help them arrange favorable terms at your bank to finance their capital accounts. Usually capital accounts are tied to working capital needed to operate the firm and the percentage of ownership/income that each partner will have.

While capital contributions are all over the board ranging from zero to $100,000 in firm's your size I often see capital contributions ranging from $25,000 to $50,000. 

There are only three ways to increase a firm's working capital to cover cash flow requirements and fund growth:

1. Have partners put more money in
2. Have partners take less money out
3. Borrow

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

 

 

May 10, 2016


Law Firm Client Relations: Lost Client Survey

Question:

I am a member of our firm's executive committee. We are a 16 attorney business transactional firm in Seattle. Recently the firm has lost several key clients and we want to know what we can do determine why this happened and what we can do to improve client retention. I would appreciate your suggestions.

Response

I would conduct a lost client survey. This type of survey is used if your firm wants to know why you have lost a particular client or group of clients. With this survey interviews are conducted (usually by telephone or in person) with clients that no longer do business with your firm. Let the client know that you are sorry that he or she is no longer doing business with your firm and that you are interested in learning from your mistakes. Understanding your client’s reason for leaving will help you make improvements for future clients. One of the greatest benefits for this type of survey is that you are often able to discover the specific reason a client left.

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

May 03, 2016


Law Firm Management Structure – Firm Administrator and Marketing Director

Question: 

I am the founder and managing partner of a 27 attorney firm in Dallas Texas. I own 90% of the stock in the firm. I have a three member management committee that serves as a sounding board, a firm administrator, and several people in accounting that work for the firm administrator. We are anticipating hiring a marketing director and are trying to think our way through how to structure this new position as well as future management positions down the road. I would appreciate any thoughts that you may have.

Response:

It will depend on the depth of experience of the marketing candidate that you hire and the level that you want them to perform. If you hire a heavy weight, they will be expected to have "director" in their title" and you will want them to have the respect of other attorneys in your firm, your clients and prospective clients. Therefore, they may carry a title such as Director of Marketing, Director of Client Development and Marketing, etc. If this is the case this position should report to either you, the managing partner, or the management committee, not the firm administrator. Depending on the level of your administrator it may be appropriate to retitle the position as Director of Administration and have it also report to you, the managing partner, or the management committee. Before long you may need a Human Resources Director and when that time occurs that position also could report to the you, the managing partner, or the management committee. Accounting and administrative staff would report to the Director of Administration, marketing staff would report to the Director of Marketing, etc. I would develop job descriptions for each position as well as your position and the management committee.


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

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