Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog
Category: PartnershipLater »
Oct 27, 2010
I am an owner of a 5 attorney law firm in the upper midwest. There are 4 associates in the firm and I hope to eventually make them partners. I have two children that will be finishing law school in the next year or two and they have expressed an interest in joining the firm. Is this a good idea? I have heard horror stories about such arrangements? What are your thoughts?
I have seen it go both ways. Many firms have brought children and other family members into the firm and have had excellent results. Others have not. In general I believe that law firms do a better job at this than do other business firms. Your situation is more complicated since you have associates in place that may feel threatened and uncertain as to their futures when you bring in family members. I believe that if you lay the proper foundation and go about it correctly you can successfully bring your children into the firm. Here are a few ideas:
- Recognize that for the family members there will be a family system, the family law firm, and an overlapping of these systems. This can be fertile ground for conflict if clear boundaries between the family role and the firm (business) role are not clear. Establish clear boundaries. Family dynamics and business dynamics seldom mix. Your objective should be to draw the clearest possible distinction between the two and make sure that everyone understands that the firm (business) is the firm and the family is the family.
- Children should not be brought into the firm unless they want to be involved and satisfy your standard hiring criteria for lawyers. I believe that before your children join the family law firm it is a good idea for them to work for another firm or organization. When they do join the family firm they can bring with them that experience, a supply of new ideas, a network of contacts, and a number of other benefits acquired.
- Make it clear to your children that they must "earn their stripes" and come up through the ranks in the same fashion as other associates in the firm. No special privileges. Make it clear that they must earn the respect of other attorneys and staff in the firm.
- Put your associates and staff at ease. Make it clear that your children are expected to "earn their stripes" and they will not be promoted to partner over other associates on family status alone. (Unless this is your intent)
- Clearly define the role of all parties.
- Monitor your own behavior. Don't take sides – either between your children if both join the firm or between your children and other employees in the firm.
- Be careful with compensation and other rewards. Compensation should be based up performance and results and consistent and competitive with other law firms of similar size and type.
- Put in place a succession plan sooner than later with a workable buy-sell agreement.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate – your intentions, roles, etc. before and after your children join the firm.
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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
Sep 28, 2010
Our firm has been discussing how to handle one of our partners. We are are 25 attorney firm. One of mid-level partners who is one of our highest fee producers and best business getter's simply won't follow firm policy or play by the rules. He won't turn in time-sheets in a timely manner, he is argumentative with others in the office, and not a team player. He is "me first" while the rest of the partners in the firm are mostly "firm first". We are trying to build a team based practice and this one partner is holding up our progress. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on how we should handle this?
Dealing with "maverick partners" is always a challenge. Of course they seem to always be the heavy hitters and this makes it that much more difficult as often there are major clients and large sums of money at stake – at least in the short term. This can also be major issues and large sums of money at stake in the long term if you don't deal with the maverick partner as well. In addition you won't be able to achieve the vision and goals the firm is trying to achieve.
- For starters – if you have not already – create a well understood set of firm core values or code of conduct that governs behavior in the firm. For example, in most firms people are expected to work hard, be honest, and treat each other with respect.
- Partners as well as all other attorneys and staff should behave in a collaborative, cooperative, and team-orientated manner.
- Partners as well as all other attorneys and staff should comply with all firm policies and procedures.
- Enforce firm policies for all – no exceptions.
- Consider coaching, counseling or other forms of outside assistance if they could prove helpful.
- Lay down the law – confront and deal with the problem partner sooner than later – even if it means he or her leaving the firm.
Many firms have had to deal with the problem of a maverick "huge business generator" who just wouldn’t cooperate with firm policies and caused conflict and tension in the firm. It is an unplesant task – but in the end – worth the investment. In the end he or she either conforms or leaves the firm. We have been advised by our clients that even though they may have struggled in the short term as the result of the loss of a major fee producer – in the long run the firm was better off and should have done it earlier.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC