Our firm is a litigation defense firm in the Chicago suburbs. Four of us started the firm twenty years ago and we have since grown to a sixteen attorney firm consisting of eight equity partners and eight associates. The other four partners were initially associates and later admitted after they had been here for five to seven years. The other four partners bring in very little business and their production is dismal compared to the four founders. Our associates working attorney receipts are larger than a couple of our equity partners. Our compensation is a equal salary for all partners with remaining profits allocated to each partner based upon their ownership percentage which are 15% for each of the four founding equity partners and 10% for each of the other equity partners. They was no buy-in for the newer partners. Profits have been flat for several years and partner compensation as well. We would like to hear any thoughts that you may have.
It sounds like partners are left to their own and are not accountable to other partners in the firm. Successful firms your size have performance expectations and guidelines for all attorneys in the firm with consequences for non compliance.
Many firms your size use a compensation committee to determine partner compensation and performance peer reviews – – both written and face to face interviews are conducted with each partner in the firm. Partner performance reviews are often avoided like the plague by many firms. They are time consuming and it is hard to give candid feedback to colleagues. However, without partner performance reviews neither the partners nor the firm will reach full potential. When partner performance reviews are used not only to review performance but to set measurable goals this data can be incorporated into the compensation system and provide additional hard data for providing a true measure of partner contribution and value.
You may have to consider changing your partner compensation system or changing nonperforming partners status to non-equity partners or associates.
You must muster up the courage to confront underperforming partners but before you do that you have to determine what the baseline performance expectations are for the firm, communicate them, and put in place consequences for non-compliance.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC