Our firm is a relatively new firm. Several of us left a large firm in Dallas and started the firm last year. We have 17 attorneys – 10 of us are partners. When we started the firm we each put in a little cash and obtained a line of credit which we have used extensively and we are at our limit. Is this a good practice? Should the partners contribute more capital? How much? I would appreciate your ideas.
There are two categories of capital – short-term or working capital which is used to fund daily operations and long term capital which is used to pay for capital assets such as furniture and fixtures, computers and other office equipment. I guess I am old school but I believe that short term working capital should be funded as much as possible with partner capital and long term capital funded with bank borrowing or leases. I have more and more clients that are funding working capital with partner capital and have no bank debt at all. I have other clients that finance all working capital with their bank line of credit – these firms could find themselves in dire straits if bank credit should tighten in the future.
The amount of working capital needed by a firm depends upon your practice, billing and collection cycles, whether you do contingency fee work, and whether the firm is growing and adding attorneys and staff. As a rule of thumb I suggest that a firm have three times one month's expenses excluding draws in working capital. This would need to be increased if the firm has lengthy billing and collection cycles, does contingency fee work, and is in a growth mode.
Partner capital contributions are usually made proportionately based on partner earnings or ownership percentages.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC