Our firm is a 25 attorney firm based in San Antonio, Texas. We have 15 equity partners. We are equal partners and have equal ownership interests. Our partners are paid based upon ownership shares. Thus, each are paid the same. The system has worked well for us for many years and has supported our team-based collaborative culture. However, we are having issues with non-productive partners and some of the productive partners feel that the compensation system is no longer fair. Some of the partners have suggested that we more to a formulaic system. Other partners in the firm feel that such as system would destroy the collaborative culture that we have built. We would appreciate your thoughts.
I agree that the compensation system must shift to a system that rewards performance and overall contribution to the firm and yet preserve the culture that you have built over the years. I think that a pure formulaic system would shift your culture to a “lone ranger” culture with everyone out for themselves. I believe that for your firm a subjective or a hybrid system incorporating quantitative and qualitative performance factors would be the best approach.
In order to implement such a system you will need to set up a compensation committee that will made partner compensation decisions. I suggest a three member committee elected by the partners on three-year staggered terms. The committee will determine and publish performance factors that will be considered, conduct annual face-to-face performance evaluations, approve each partner’s annual personal goal plan for the following year, and make their partner compensation recommendation to the partnership regarding the upcoming year salary and bonus for the year ending year.
The partnership agreement or other compensation policy document should specify the procedure and what happens when the partnership does not approve the recommendation of the compensation committee or when a partner requests reconsideration.
A system such as this requires more time and work but usually yields better results, especially in a team-based collaborative practice. More and more larger firms are using subjective or hybrid systems.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC