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Dec 31, 2019


Law Firm Management – What Will Be Keeping Owners and Managing Partner Awake at Night in 2020

Question: 

I am the owner of a twelve attorney business litigation law firm in Northern, California. I started the firm fourteen years ago after practicing ten years in a large law firm. While the practice has been fulfilling both professionally and financially, the management side is often a challenge. As I sit here on December 31, 2019 thinking about management challenges that I may face next year I was wondering what you envision the challenges will be in 2020.

Response: 

The following were the common challenges that owners and managing partners advised us that they faced in 2019:

  1. Talent Management – Attorneys and Staff
    1. Hiring
    2. Training
    3. Motivating
    4. Compensating
    5. Keeping (retaining)
  2. Firm Succession and Transition
  3. Getting and Keeping Clients and Additional Sources of Business
  4. Managing Cash Flow
  5. Satisfying Hard to Please Clients
  6. Balancing Time Between Servicing Clients and Managing the Firm
  7. Getting Paid
  8. Competition from Other Law Firms and Non-Law Firm Service Providers
  9. Proving High Quality Legal Services at an Affordable Price and Avoiding Malpractice Claims
  10. Finding Time for Personal Life and Family

In 2019 the number one challenge was talent management and I believe this will continue to be the case in 2020. The other challenges that I have listed will continue to be the major concerns of owners and managing partners in 2020.

Here are some links to a few of our resources that you might find helpful:

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

 

 

 

Feb 12, 2019


Law Firm Communications – Tools that Can be Used to Improve Communications

Question:

Our firm is a sixteen attorney personal injury insurance defense firm located in Dallas, Texas. I am a member on our three-person management committee. We have been experiencing associate attorney and staff turnover. Recently, we had all employees complete confidential surveys concerning their thoughts and feedback concerning the firm. One theme that was central to all was that the firm has poor communications with employees. I would like to hear your thoughts on what we need to do to improve.

Response: 

Obviously, more specifics would be helpful. Communication is a broad topic. Are they talking about mentoring, training, updates of what is going on in the firm, etc? However, here a a few best practices to think about:

  1. Find ways to improve communications with members, associates and staff.
  2. Use the appropriate communications vehicle for the task at hand. (Face-to-face, voice mail, e-mail, memo, etc.)
  3. When a few employees are not following policies, or causing difficulties – resist the temptation to send out a blanket e-mail to all – and have the courage to counsel and discipline the individual offender. The will improve the overall morale and attitude of others in the firm.
  4.  Hiring
    1. Terminate marginal people.
    2. Develop procedures to ensure that the firm is hiring from a pool of qualified
    3. Formulate formal hiring and firing policies.
    4. Insure that hiring’s and firings are documented in accordance with the firm policies.
  5. Updated employee handbook.
  6. Training
    1. More formal training and mentoring programs should be designed for staff and associates alike. In addition to typical legal and office topics, other topics should include skill training in:
      1. English language (staff)
      2. Communications
      3. Law firm economics generally (associates)
      4. Management
      5. Time management
      6. Time Keeping
      7. Marketing
      8. Client service
      9. Speaking and writing
  7. Communications and Policies
    1. Communications can always be improved, and the appropriate channels used for the appropriate situation. (e.g. individual face-to-face, staff meetings, telephone call, memo or email.)
    2. The firm should insure that it is delegating as much as it should. In particular,
      partner time spent on administrivia.
    3. People with growth potential should be placed where they have the greatest potential to grow.
    4. The staff should know what they are trying to accomplish.
  8. Employee handbooks should insure that the following policies are included:
    1. Relations with clients
    2. Objectivity
    3. Confidentiality
    4. Investments and other financial dealings with clients
    5. Outside work
    6. Overtime or bonus
    7. Salary review
    8. Insurance coverage
    9. Sick leave
    10. Continuing education and tuition reimbursements
    11. Time off to attend various training and professional functions
    12. Dues for professional and other organizations
    13. Allowable expenses and reimbursement procedures
    14. Involvement in civic and other community organizations
    15. Speeches, articles and books
  9. Staff members should be made aware of the firm policies and changes in policy.
  10. The firm should develop a procedure for feedback from the associates and staff to use to improve the knowledge and skills of all staff. (Internal survey, suggestion box, and other tools)
  11. The firm should conduct regularly scheduled frequent meetings.
  12. Attorney and staff errors should be handled in a way to improve performance and maintain respect for the firm. Not placing blame.

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

 

Nov 08, 2017


Law Firm Retreats – Should Spouses be Invited?

Question: 

Our firm is a twenty-five attorney firm located in Austin, Texas. I am the firm administrator with the firm. We are planning on having a firm retreat consisting of the attorneys in the firm in February and are wondering whether we should included the spouses. Some of our partners think we should include spouses and others think that we should not. We had had retreats in the past and have not included spouses. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Response: 

Having spouses attend law firm retreats varies from firm to firm. The majority of the retreats that I have facilitated have not had spouses attend. The decision to have wives or husbands of attorneys attend the retreat depends on the retreat program and the retreat goals. Firms do not generally invite spouses when the retreat is devoted primarily to firm business and little time is available for recreation and informal socializing.

If social programs are planned, some firms do invite spouses and design special programs (e.g. sightseeing tours, tennis/golf games, lunches, special sessions) for them, with couples getting joining each other in the evening for dinner and evening programs.

Some firms will setup special sessions during the weekend to orient spouses to the firm’s organization, operation, and culture. In these special sessions, spouses are introduced to the firm’s history, culture, pecking order among the lawyer ranks, why attorneys work after hours and on weekends, and how career advancement works.

When wives or husbands occupy positions in the firm, special day-to-day programs are often created that deal with any problems that the firm may be experiencing as a result of their employment. Problems such as spousal conflict, differences in compensation, and work production are just a few examples of issues that can occur when spouses are employed in a law firm. Special pre-retreat consideration needs to be given to how the presence of family staff members would influence the retreat proceedings.

Click here for our blog on strategy

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

Oct 11, 2017


Law Firm Capitalization – Should There Be a Buy-In?

Question: 

I am a partner in a firm in Los Angeles. We have nine attorneys – four partners and five associates. We are a young firm in that we have only been in business for four years. The four partners started the firm together, we are equal partners, and we split the profits equally. When we started the firm we each made equal capital contributions. We do not have a partnership agreement. We are thinking about bringing in two associates as equity partners and are trying to think through the mechanics and one of our questions is whether there should be a buy-in and if so how should we determine it. We would appreciate your thoughts.

Response:

Law firms have different viewpoints on this subject. I have worked with some larger firms that are in second generation or later that do not require a capital contribution at all. They use end of the year distribution hold backs and credit lines to fund their working capital requirements. Other firms do require capital contributions upon being admitted as a partner and additional contributions over time when additional capital is needed or when partners acquire additional capital interests.

Smaller firms tend to require new partners/shareholders to pay for their interest in the firm. The buy-in can provide additional capital for the firm or can be used to compensate the existing partners/shareholders for their investment and sweat equity in creating the law firm or in growing it to its present size. One approach that some firms use it to include in the partnership/shareholder agreement the formula for determining the value of the firm, to which the new partner’s/shareholder’s percentage interest can be applied. This could include non cash-based assets such as accounts receivable, unbilled work in process, and goodwill. Another approach is to base the buy-in or capital contribution upon a the cash-based capital based upon the number of ownership shares a partner receives. Most firms allow for a buy-in over several years. Firms that do have a buy-in provision also typically provide for a payment to partners/shareholders upon departure for the value of their capital account. In recent years, an increasing number of large firms have adopted a free buy-in. Under that approach, there are no payments to departing partners/shareholders.

I believe that you should require at least a capital buy-in based upon the cash-based capital on the books and the number of ownership offered. This assumes that the partners still have capital accounts on the books. I also think you might consider them buying into the accounts receivable and unbilled work in process as well or be excluded from participating in compensation from those receipts. You should also get a partnership agreement in place as well.

Click here for our blog on partnership

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

 

Apr 25, 2017


When Should a Law Firm Partner Compensation System Be Changed?

Question: 

I am a partner in a fourteen attorney business litigation law firm in New Orleans. There are five partners in the firm. We are a first generation firm and all of the five partners are the original founders. Each of the partners have equal ownership interests and are compensated based upon ownership points. While this approach to compensation worked for many years this system is no longer working for us. Performance used to be pretty close but this is no longer the case. Your suggestions are welcomed.

Response: 

This is a common problem that new law firms eventually face. Here are a few thoughts:

Click here for our blog on compensation

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

Jul 26, 2016


Law Firm Marketing – How Much Should We Be Spending on Marketing?

Question:

I am the managing partner of a 12 attorney firm in Providence, Rhode Island. In our recent partner meetings we have been discussing ramping up marketing. How much should we be spending on marketing?

Response:

Studies that have been conducted indicate that law firms that provide services to business firms (B2B) spend approximately 2.4% of fee revenue on marketing. However, law firms that focus on individual consumers (retail law if you will) spend much more – 10%+ of fee revenues on marketing – especially if strong referral networks are not in place. I have several PI, SSDI, Elder Law and Estate Planning firm clients that are spending 10%+ of their fee revenue or greater on marketing. I have some extremely successful PI firm clients spending 20% of their revenue on marketing. 

The amount of appropriate investment can depend upon referral networks in place. I have successful PI and Estate Planning firms that are spending very little on marketing, are getting all of their business from their referral networks, and spending next to nothing on marketing and advertising. (By referrals I am speaking about professional referrals not involving a referral fee and client referrals. If referral fees are involved they should be considered a marketing cost) So it depends upon your situation, the type of cases you are going after, etc.

Be careful of spending to be spending. Marketing expense scan be a deep hold that yields no return on investment. Insure that your marketing investments are targeted, well thought out, measured, and are working. Determine up from whether your goal is long term brand building or short term lead generation going in.

Click here for our blog on marketing 

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

 

Jan 06, 2016


Law Firm Managment – Do Your Non-Equity Partners and Associates Really Want to be Equity Partners?

Question:

I am a member of our firm's executive committee. We are an 18 attorney firm in Baltimore with four equity partners, five non equity partners, and nine associates. Recently we asked one of our non-equity partners to join the equity ranks and he said no. We were shocked and taken by surprise. Is this a common occurrence? We would like to hear your thoughts.

Response:

This is becoming a more common occurrence and this is causing havoc with growth, succession and transition plans. Many law firms are seeing a growing sense of disillusionment from young lawyers that may not want to be an equity partner. While they want to be lawyers they do not want to take the financial and other business risks nor make the other work commitments such as working nights, weekends, and the 24-hour commitment that has historically been the requirements for equity partners in law firms. Work-life balance has become a priority for more younger lawyers.

I believe that you should through performance reviews, survey questionnaires, and other tools gather information sooner than later to get a feel for where your non-equity partners and associates stand as far as attitudes toward business and financial risk, desirability of being an equity owner, and willingness to invest capital and time in the firm. This will give you a feel for your mix. If it looks like you have too many worker bees – revamp your recruiting strategy – new attorneys or laterals – accordingly and look for attorneys that have an interest and the mindset that it takes to be an equity owner.

Click here for our blog on partnership

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

 

 

 

Oct 20, 2015


Law Firm Competitive Strategy – Daring to Be Different

Question:

I am the managing partner of a 16 attorney business transactional firm in Chicago. Over the last five years we have lost several core clients due to client consolidation of their outside law firms and mergers of the clients themselves. Competition is getting fierce in our market, our services are being viewed as commodities, and it is getting harder to stand out. What can we do to differentiate ourselves from everyone else? We welcome your thoughts.

Response: 

Creating a competitive advantage that is sustainable over time is difficult at best. It is so easy for your competitors to copycat your recent innovations. Clients of law firms advise us that they hire the lawyer – not the firm. However, this only partly true. The firm – its image – its brand – provides a backdrop for the individual attorneys marketing efforts as well – makes marketing easier – and provides backup and bench strength that many clients require before retaining a lawyer.

In general the law firm is faced with the dual challenge of developing a reputation (brand) at both the firm and the individual lawyer level. In general – client delivery practices and behaviors that are part of the firm's core values and have been burned into the firm's cultural fabric are the hardest to copycat.

Areas in which you can consider differentiation strategies:

https://www.olmsteadassoc.com/blog/category/strategy/

Click here for our law firm management articles

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

 

Jul 22, 2015


Law Firm Dissolution – New Firm Startup – Steps to Be Taken

Last week a firm advised that their law firm was splitting up via a dissolution and forming two new law firms. I outlined some of the steps that would need to be taken to dissolve the firm.

This week I will discuss some of the typical steps that will need to be taken to start the new law firms. Some of these steps include:

ESTABLISH NEW LEGAL ENTITY 

  1. File articles or other documents for entity formation. (LLC, LLP, PC, etc.) 
  2. Obtain FEIN Number
  3. Open new bank accounts
  4. Establish line of credit with bank
  5. Draft operating agreement/partnership/shareholder agreement
  6. Agree on approach to partner compensation
  7. Draft a business and marketing plan for the firm.
  8. Obtain any required business permits.
  9. Obtain office space, if moving, and negotiate lease – or negotiate new lease with landlord of present space.

IT & SYSTEMS 

  1. Decide on equipment and software being retained
  2. Decide on billing and accounting system data conversion strategy.
  3. Decide on MS Exchange Server conversion strategy.
  4. Decide of document management system conversion strategy.
  5. Purchase new software that may be required as a result of licensing.
  6. Install, configure, and populate billing and accounting software.
  7. Obtain new internet domain name and e-mail addresses

NOTIFICATIONS 

  1. Notify courts
  2. Notify bar associations
  3. Notify all vendors
  4. Notify post office
  5. Notify insurance carriers
  6. Obtain malpractice insurance with tail coverage
  7. Notify Yellow Pages and other directories
  8. Notify phone company. 
  9. Obtain new phone number if needed
  10. Notify tax authorities
  11. Notify Westlaw/Lexis, etc.

HUMAN RESOURCES 

  1. Employee meetings
  2. Setup payroll system – in house or outsourced
  3. Deal with medical insurance transfer
  4. Deal with 401k and other benefit plan transfer
  5. Update employee handbook
  6. Update administrative policies and procedures manual

FACILITIES 

  1. Decide on whether the firm if staying in current space or moving. If staying, decide on how much space is excess
  2. If staying, decide on what space the firm will occupy and what space will be sub-leased or turned back to the landlord if possible
  3. Negotiate lease with the landlord
  4. Office signage
  5. Decide whether any space improvements are needed.
  6. Decide on internal move date and who will be in what locations (if staying)

CLIENT RELATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT

  1. Notify clients of dissolution – joint letter – both firms – in accordance with rules of professional responsibility
  2. Meet with clients
  3. Develop new sources of clients

PUBLIC RELATIONS AND MARKETING 

  1. Public relations campaign
  2. Business identity plan (branding, logo development, etc.)
  3. Create marketing collateral materials (letterhead, brochures, business cards, etc.)
  4. Create and launch new website
  5. Open house or some event

The tasks involved in launching a new firm are numerous, specific to each individual firm, and this is just a starting list. You can use this list as a starting point to develop your own project plan. Suggest that you create a central project plan to get everyone handling various tasks on the same page. The plan should include tasks, specific responsibilities and start and target completion dates.

Good luck with your new firm!

 

Click here for our blog on succession

Click here for out articles on various management topics

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

 

 

Jul 14, 2015


Law Firm Dissolution – Steps To Be Taken

Question:

I am the managing partner in a 14 attorney firm in Seattle. Our partnership has voted to dissolve the firm effective the September 1,2015. Two new firms will be formed. Eight attorneys will be going to one firm and six to another firm. What steps do we need to think about in managing this project?

Response:

You actually have two projects to manage. The dissolution project and the new firm start-up project for the firm that you will be joining. The other firm will also have a new firm start-up project as well. I will address in this blog some of the dissolution steps and I will address some of the new firm start-up steps in next week's post.

Dissolution Steps

  1. Create a master project plan.
  2. Identify who will be in control of the wind down. Firm or representatives from both sides.
  3. Contact the firm's accounting firm.
  4. Identify a spokesperson to address associates and staff.
  5. Identify a spokesperson to handle the press and other outside sources.
  6. Notify associates and staff.
  7. Create a checklist of ongoing obligations and responsibilities.
  8. Create a list of memberships and special arrangements.
  9. Notify insurance carriers.
  10. Notify clients by letter of the dissolution.
  11. Determine compensation for those that manage the wind down.
  12. Follow-up on outstanding delinquent accounts receivable.
  13. Develop a dissolution agreement and have signed by all partners.
  14. Identify who will have control of the files – paper and electronic.
  15. Determine last day of operations.
  16. Determine how and when the final work in process will be billed and by who.
  17. Address the office lease obligation.
  18. Address the equipment and other lease obligations.
  19. Determine the value of all firm assets as of the last day of firm operations.
  20. Identify contingency fee matters and negotiate a separate agreement regarding how to pay all involved when the cases are settled.

These are just a few of the many steps that are involved. Next week I will post Part I – Steps to be Taken to start-up your new firm.

Click here for our blog on succession

Click here for out articles on various management topics

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

 

 

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