Our firm is a 18 attorney insurance defense firm located in Chicago. We are in our second generation and none of the original founders are still working in the firm. The majority of our insurance company clients have been with the firm for decades and were inherited. Our current crop of partners are primarily "worker bees" and have not developed "rainmaking" skills. We have not added a new client to our client roster in years. In the past two years we have lost several clients due to mergers, consolidations, and partner defections. This concerns us. Currently partners are rewarded and compensated totally on "working attorney" fee collections. We are considering changing our compensation system to including a credit for origination of new business. What are your thoughts regarding client origination credit?
All law firms need a mix of finders, minders, and grinders. Finders (client originators) are needed to provide sufficient work to keep the workers busy. Minders (responsible matter attorneys) are needed to manage the portfolio of client work. Grinders (working attorneys) are needed to service and produce client services. While there are exceptions, in most firms partners must hit on all three of these cylinders. In other words, most of the partners must do well at finding, minding, and grinding. Partners may perform some of these roles better than others, however overall they should be competently performing each of the roles. Very few firms can afford the luxury of having several senior partners only bringing in business without being required to maintain personal production levels as well. Partner compensation research concludes that the most a law firm can afford to pay a rainmaker – over and above his or her own billable hours (fee collections) is the marginal profit derived from the associates the rainmaker can keep busy, regardless of how many partners he or she occupies. The most valuable partners are those who offer a balance of skills: worker, delegator, supervisor, and rainmaker.
Since origination of new clients is the lifeblood of any firm it is a key factor that should be recognized in any compensation system. The exact weight that it is given will depend upon the firm and how dependent it is upon constant client replacement, only a few institutional clients, turnover of clients, leverage ratio, etc. A firm that has a well diversified base of institutional long time clients will typically weigh client origination much lower than a firm that has to constantly replace individual clients.
Actual approaches to implementation will depend upon whether your system is a subjective or a objective (formula system). However, the pitfalls are the same. Actual assignments of origination credits to partners can be difficult to initially determine. When and how should origination credits be shared between partners? Who determines and monitors such determinations? How long should the credit be awarded?
Origination credit becomes counter productive when it encourages senior partners to become comforable on the income received from origination credits from clients they brought in 20 years ago to the extent that they no longer develop new sources of business nor generate working attorney fees.
For this reason we believe origination credit should have a sunset expiration provision and that a firm should set time limits on origination credits – say five years on a reducing schedule – and have partners share origination credit with other members of the firm who develop business by cross-selling the firm's services to clients whose accounts were originated by another partner. In addition, offer "maintenance credit" as long as the originating partner continues to perform tasks that reinforce the relationship between the client and the firm.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC