Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Leadership

Mar 08, 2016


Law Firm Administrators – New Administrator – Accounting vs. Human Resource Background

Question:

Our firm is a 18 attorney firm based in San Diego. We are considering hiring our first legal administrator and have interviewed several candidates and have narrowed our search down to two candidates. One candidate has a strong financial background and has worked as a director of administration in several very large firms – 200 plus attorneys. The other candidate has a strong HR background, a weaker financial background, and has worked as a firm administrator in two different law firms – a 30 attorney firm and a 20 attorney firm. We like both candidates. Which candidate would you lean toward?

Response:

I would lean toward the administrator that worked for the smaller law firms. Having worked in smaller firms this candidate would be a more hands on administrator which is what a firm your size needs. In a firm your size the critical need is people management and leadership. As long as the candidate has a working knowledge of accounting the candidate should do fine with the oversight of your CPA firm. If you have to you can supplement any accounting deficiencies with outside resources – you can't outsource people management.  

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

Jun 23, 2015


Law Firm Management -New Firm Administrator – Implementation of Ideas

Question:

I am a new and a first law firm administrator for a 16 attorney firm in Chicago. This is my firm law firm and after attending a few partner meetings I am concerned about how and where to start getting some ideas and projects implemented. I have lots of ideas. I would appreciate your suggestions.

Response:

Lack of focus and accountability is one of the major problems facing law firms. Many times, the problem is having too many ideas, alternatives and options. The result, often, is no decision or action at all. Ideas, recommendations, suggestions, etc., are of no value unless implemented.

Look for ways to insure that your, and your partners, time spent on management is spent wisely. At first identify a few (maybe three) management initiatives that you can move forward fairly quickly and get implemented. Then build upon these successes.

Don’t hide behind strategy, planning, and endless debate. Attorneys love to postpone implementation. Find ways to focus the firm and foster accountability from all.

Don't attempt to initially, in the short term, take on management projects that the firm is unwilling or unable to implement.

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Click here for our blog postings on partnership and governance

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

Oct 09, 2012


Survival Tips for Law Firm Legal Administrators

Question:

I am the Director of Administration with a 45 attorney firm in Des Moines, Iowa. I am new to this position and could use some pointers on what I need to be successful in my role. This is my firm law firm.

Response:

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. To transcend to the next level and enhance your value to your law firm, you must help your firm actually effect positive changes and improvements and improve performance. This requires selling ideas to partners in the firm, and having them accept and actually implement those ideas. To succeed, you must achieve three outcomes:

1.  You must provide new solutions or methods.

2.  The firm must achieve over time  measurable improvement in its results by having adopted the
     solutions, and

3.  The firm must sustain the improvements over time.

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

Aug 14, 2012


Law Firm Management Roles – What Do I Need To Be Good At?

Question:

I am the owner of a 12 attorney firm in Dallas. We have 26 people including attorneys and staff. I founded the firm 20 years ago. While we have an Accounting Manager – I am responsible for the management and direction of the firm. While we have done okay over the years – I often feel deficient as a manager and am not always sure that I am covering all of the bases. Is there such thing as management 101 for guys like me?

Response:

Mention management 101 and I think of the five functions of management. Each of these roles must be performed by someone in every law firm and business if it is to be successful. In a small firm such as yours you must perform each of these functions and be reasonably good at all of them.

Here are the five functions:

1.  Planning

Deciding in advance what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and who is to do it. Planning bridges the gap from where you are to where you want to go. It makes it possible for things to occur which would not otherwise happen. Planning is often referred to as business, long range, or strategic planning.

2.  Organizing

Creating an intentional structure of roles, duties and responsibilites, and accountabilities. Defining  what is to be done, by who, and how? Sometimes this involves establishing departments or practice groups.

3.  Staffing

Manning the jobs which involves hiring, performance management, training, mentoring, and development of people to fill the organizational roles.

4.  Directing

Directing employees involves motivation, communications and leadership.

5.  Controlling

Measurement of accomplishments of events against the standard of plans and the correction of deviations to insure attainment of objectives according to plans. In essence this involves reviewing your business, long range or strategic plan or budget against actual performance using metrics and dashboards/reports to determine how well you are making progress. If you are falling short of firm goals – determine problem areas and take corrective action to get performance back on course.

Use the above functions as a report card. Ask your self – how good are you at performing each of these roles? Are you performing them at all?

In addition to these roles you need to have a working knowledge of accounting and finance and be able to manage the financial affairs of the firm "work the books" as well as being good at getting the right people on the bus (hiring right) and keeping them there.

As you continue to grow you will eventually need to hire management talent to delegate some of these functions to perform.

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

Jul 24, 2012


Focused Effort in Law FIrms – Effective Problem Solving and Implementation

Question:

Recently our firm of 14 attorneys decided to transition from all partners weighing in on every management decision to a managing partner form of management. I was elected to the new managing partner position and have been in the position for four months and I have accomplished very little during this period of time. I am not sure where to start. I would be interested in your ideas.

Response:

You might want to read last week's blog/posting on governance. Structuring and Running Your Firm Like a Business

Lack of focus and accountability is one of the major problems facing law firms. Many times, the problem is having too many ideas, alternatives and options. The result, often, is no decision or action at all. Ideas, recommendations, suggestions, etc., are of no value unless implemented.

Look for ways to insure that your, and your partners, time spent on management is spent wisely. At first identify a few (maybe three) management initiatives that you can move forward fairly quickly and get implemented. Then build upon these successes.

Don’t hide behind strategy, planning, and endless debate. Attorneys love to postpone implementation. Find ways to focus the firm and foster accountability from all.

Don't attempt to initially, in the short term, take on management projects that the firm is unwilling or unable to implement.

Click here for articles on other topics

Click here for our blog postings on partnership and governance

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

 

 

Oct 18, 2011


Law Firm Leadership: How do We Get Started

Question:

I am the managing partner of a 24 attorney firm in San Francisco. We are becoming frustrated at our inability to achieve a consensus and make timely decisions on matters of firm policy, strategy, marketing, and management. We are missing out on opportunities. We have no management scheme and no one to lead the charge – no team effort. The attorneys can't decide anything and firm management is a free for all. Things don't get done because no one is responsible. Conflict exists because anyone may be in charge. We are strong on ideas but weak on implementation. We lack leadership and focus. What are your ideas regarding leadership? Where should we start?

Response:

This is a common in firms of all sizes. In general, the foundation of leadership is built upon exhibited behaviors illustrating a proven track record of trust, respect, and accountability. These are the building blocks required for the development of leadership practices. Without these building blocks leadership cannot exist or be developed. The law firm culture must be nourished in such a way as to support these behaviors. These behaviors must become a part of everyday practice in dealing with clients as well as partners and others within and outside of the law firm. Law firm leaders must develop and practice the following behaviors:

The organizational structures, practices and procedures that exist in many law firms also discourage the development of leadership behaviors and practices. Many firms have a short-term production orientation focused upon individual lawyer productivity and production based upon billable hours and dollars billed and collected. A "me first" attitude rather than "firm first" "client first" attitude is frequently prevalent. Many lawyers hoard clients and consider them their clients as opposed to firm clients. These lawyers use individualistic approaches to client problems as opposed to team approaches. Compensation and other reward systems are not well suited to fostering leadership and developing teamwork in law firms. Firm governance, practice management, and performance management systems in law firms are also ill-suited to foster a climate encouraging and supporting leadership.

Law firms are finding that developing effective leadership skills can be a very difficult task. Dealing with leadership is a very emotional issue for most law firms due to the independent nature of most lawyers and the general unwillingness of firm lawyers to put aside their personal interests for the good of the firm. In fact, in many cases existing law firm partnership structures reinforce this tendency. What is needed is a balance between partner autonomy and partner accountability. Leaders will either have to be recruited externally (ie lateral partners) or skills will need to be developed internally.

The firm can begin by conducting a self-assessment using the following 10 point checklist:

  1. Only the best should lead and be placed in key leadership positions. Does the firm have its most capable people in leadership positions?
  2. Does the firm have partners or other lawyers with leadership skills or potential leadership skills? How many?
  3. How many lawyer leader positions are there in the firm that require leadership skills? How many lawyers have these skills?
  4. Does the firm's compensation system reward management and leadership activities?
  5. Does the firm's compensation system have a team reward component and are non-billable firm investment activities respected and rewarded?
  6. Does the firm's culture support a team orientated practice or an individual type practice?
  7. Does the firm's governance structure provide for administrative, management, and leadership roles and responsibilities?
  8. Does the firm have an in-house leadership training and development program?
  9. Does the firm invest and budget funds for leadership development?
  10. Is the firm willing to make the commitment?

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

 

Jan 27, 2001


Leadership and Accountability in Law FIrms

Question:

What do you see as the primary management problems in law firms?

Response:

We are frequently asked to assist law firms in areas such as management reviews, marketing, compensation, and strategic planning. However, these are often symptoms of another problem – leadership, trust, and accountability. Frequently we find that unless proper leadership is in place we are all wasting time on attempting to treat the symptoms. Without sound firm leadership at the partner level other initatives are never able to get off the ground. Law firm leadership is the top challenge facing the profession today.

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

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