I am the partner in charge of finance at our 12 attorney litigation boutique firm located in downtown Chicago. For the past two years our profits have been down and we are considering raising our rates but we are concerned that we may lose some of our corporate clients. We welcome your thoughts.
Raising fees is one approach you might consider. Clients are starting to push back more and more concerning legal fees. If you are at the high end of the rate scale I suggest that before charging off and raising rates you step back and conduct a process review by using an approach similar to the following:
Keep in mind that raising fees is one way of improving profitability. There are other ways as well. In today's competitive environment. Working smarter, efficiently, and more effective is another.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D., CMC
I am the managing partner of a 14 attorney estate planning firm in Lexington, Kentucky. We took a hard hit in 2008 when the recession hit and have just been recovering over the last couple of years. Business is up but profits are still flat. We have not raised our hourly billing rates for several years for fear that we will not be competitive and will lose out on business. However, we believe that we must increase our billing rates and are concerned. What are your thoughts?
I would bet that you are leaving money on the table and you should in fact increase your billing rates. Often I find that law firms are more concerned about their rates than their clients are. You must remain competitive for the value package (including your experience, expertise, and reputation) that you are delivering. This does not mean being the cheapest estate planning firm in town. Some of my most successful estate planning firms are those charging the highest fees.
Here are a few thoughts:
You may find that clients are not as concerned about your fees as you are.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
I am the managing partner of a four attorney (all partners) estate planning firm in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We are all working hard but I do not believe that we are making the money that we should be. Last year our fee collections were $600,000 and our net income $250,000 which was the total amount that was available for partner compensation. Thus, we each made $62,500.00. Each of us have been practicing for over 20 years and I believe this is totally unacceptable. We appear to be busy and have plenty of work. I would appreciate your thoughts.
I agree that the firm should be doing much better. Regardless of practice area (unless you are an insurance defense firm) and where you are located I believe you should be averaging $300,000+ fee collections per lawyer. You are averaging $150,000 per lawyer. You expenses of $350,000 ($67,500 per lawyer) is actually low and not the problem. You need to dig into the numbers and look into why the revenue numbers are not higher. Usually the culprits are lack of business, inadequate billing rate (or effective rate for flat fee matters), not putting in the hours, or poor time management and time keeping habits. Each attorney should strive for 70% of worked time to be billable (client production) time. Lexis has published a couple of studies on billable hours that you might find useful - Billable Hours Survey Report, Non-Billable Hours Survey Report and Where Do all the Hours Go
I find that many estate planning firms that do much of their work on a flat fee basis often are not realizing effective rates anywhere near their target time billing rates.
Look into the numbers and determine the culprit or culprits and then develop a strategy for dealing with each one – marketing to improving work ethic and time management and time keeping habits.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC