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Mar 30, 2016

Law Firm Compensation for TIme Spent by Partners Managing The Firm


Firm has three partners, two associates, and 2 staff members. We are a new firm and just started in practice a year ago. We are equal partners and we allocate compensation equally based upon these ownership interests. We believe the system has worked well for us but we been considering whether one person should handle all the management duties and if so how that person should be compensated. We would appreciate your thoughts.


First I would identify the duties and hours involved and make sure the duties are managing partner level duties and not office manager level duties that should be handled by staff. Delegate or consider hiring an office manager for duties than can be delegated. For duties that can't be delegated I would suggest you that a look at the hours that will be required and determine a  fixed additional compensation amount based on expected hours and the partner's standard billing rate. The partner's compensation would be his/her fixed additional compensation amount plus his/her allocation based upon ownership interest.

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


Feb 09, 2016

Law Firm Marketing Director – Are We Ready For One – What Should we Look For?


We are a 25 lawyer insurance defense firm in Northwest Dallas. We are managed by a managing partner, firm administrator, and director of human resources. We have been discussing the need for a marketing director. Are we too small? If we decide to hire one what should we be looking for and where should we start our search?


There is no magic size. I have seen five lawyer firms effectively use a marketing director and thirty lawyer firms that do not have one. It all comes down to your firm's specific need, what you are wanting to accomplish, and what the lawyers are willing to let a marketing director do.

While the popular title is marketing director, director of client and business development, etc. some marketing staff in smaller firms often function more as marketing coordinators and event planners. If you are looking for someone to help the firm devise a competitive strategy, lead the firm's strategic planning effort, help diversify the practice, etc., you need to look for an experienced marketing director with five plus year's experience in law or other professional service firm marketing at a director level.

If you need someone to update the website, write bios, write blogs, update social media, create brochures, and plan and coordinate events – you may only need a marketing manager or coordinator with excellent writing skills. Prior experience in law or professional service firm marketing is a plus but not required. Journalism and mass communications are popular degrees for this position.

The Legal Marketing Association (LMA) is an excellent source for finding candidates. Here is a link to the LMA job bank

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



Dec 29, 2015

Law Practice Management – Goals for 2016

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for a Personal and Professional 2016

As 2015 comes to an end we begin with a clean slate for 2016. As with anything new – the uncertain future can be scary and exciting at the same time. Year-end provides an opportune time for reflection on the past year and setting goals for the next year – both personal and professional. Goal setting can improve your personal life and your practice.

Setting and achieving goals is one of the best ways to measure your life's and practice's progress and to create unusual clarity. The alternative is drifting along aimlessly with hope and a prayer.

I am a strong believer in the power of goals. This year I finished writing my book, The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA which is scheduled to be released in January. I never would have even started, alone completed, such a project without very specific goals and timelines.

I strongly suggest that you established a few SMART goals for both your personal life and your practice for 2015 where each goal is: 

S  = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic
T = Timely (on a timeline with a deadline)

A goal without a number is just a slogan – so it is critical that you develop a system for measuring. For example, if you goal is to improve client satisfaction and loyalty you might administer an end of matter client satisfaction survey with a rating scale from 1-5 for key performance indicators, enter completed surveys into a spreadsheet, and then generate a quarterly report reflecting actual performance scores. If your goal is to meet with ten clients or referral sources during a month – develop a tracking system and generate a monthly report.

While goals can help focus you and your practice in 2016 – too many goals can have the opposite effect. Start with baby steps and identify three to five goals for 2016 and then focus intensively on these goals and their accomplishment. 

Focusing on a few targeted strategic goals could take your practice to the next level.

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





Dec 15, 2015

Law Firm Retreat – Suggestion for a Firm Having Their First Retreat


I am a senior partner in a fourteen attorney intellectual property firm in Memphis. We are planning on having a firm retreat in January 2016. We have never had a retreat before. Our plan is to have a one day retreat facilitated by a consultant with specific focus on competitive strategy and marketing. We have just decided this week that we would like to do this and are just beginning the planning process. I would like to hear your thoughts and suggestions.


Here are my thoughts:

  1. First of all it is now December and January is just around the corner and I believe that you need to have at least 60 days to properly prepare and plan for the retreat. Most management consultants that facilitate retreats, including myself, will want to get to know the firm and will want to conduct attorney interviews, (face to face or via telephone depending upon whether they are local), review financial reports and other documents, and prepare the retreat program. Participants (your people) may need time to prepare as well. Off-site facilities will need to be booked as well.
  2. Decide in advance the outcomes that you would like to achieve. Is it to entertain, inform, educate, or to develop specific solutions or action plans.
  3. Keep the retreat's focus narrow and concentrate on just a couple of topics – it sounds like you are doing this.
  4. Establish ground rules upfront – example – off agenda items, day to day operations issues, etc. are off limits.
  5. Building follow-up action plans into the program and identify who will be responsible for following up after the retreat is over.
Law firms frequently have what at the time seems to be a successful retreat but after the retreat is over and time passes it becomes apparent that no change has taken place, action items were not completed, and partners believe there was little return on the retreat investment.
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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC



Oct 27, 2015

Law Firm Succession/Transition/Exit Planning – Two Phase Deal Arrangement for Sole Owners


I am the solo owner of a five attorney estate planning firm in Los Angeles consisting of myself and four associates. I am approaching retirement and looking at my exit options. Since there are no heirs apparent in the firm I am looking to sell the practice. However, the potential buyer that I have been speaking with is nervous and concerned about client defections, proper transition, etc. Also, I would like to continue to practice for a few years and don't want to run afoul of the rules of professional conduct. I would appreciate your thoughts.


You might want to consider a two-phased approach. Merge with the other firm, continue to work for a few years, work on transitioning relationships, retire and sell your interests, and continue to work as an Of Counsel after that if you so desire.

For Example. A sole proprietor was generating $500,000 in annual revenues with one full-time senior attorney, a full-time paralegal, and a clerical person while netting 40%, including perks and benefits. This owner wanted to work three more years full time and several more years in a part-time role thereafter. The firm interested in acquiring the practice was a three-partner firm generating $2.2 million a year working with similar clients, under a similar culture and fee range.

Phase One consisted of a merger with the retiring owner agreeing to retire in three years and sell his ownership interests for an agreed amount. At its inception, the two practices were combined. The successor firm provided the practice with the same amount of labor required in the past through a combination of retaining and replacing staff, as both were deemed necessary by the parties. The successor firm took over most of the administration, and the deal was announced to the public as a merger. 

The transitioning owner was able to come and go reasonably as he saw fit, run his practice through the successor firm’s infrastructure, and retain significant autonomy and control. Because he historically generated a 40% margin, the successor firm agreed to assume all the operating costs of the practice and pay 40% of gross collections from the transitioning owner’s original clients as compensation. Phase One was set to terminate on the first of the following events: (1) the end of three years; (2) the death or disability of the transitioning owner; or (3) the election of the transitioning owner.

Phase Two was the buyout of the retiring partner's ownership interest, and it was set up in a traditional fashion. Phase Two kicked in at the end of Phase One. By deferring the buyout until the full-time compensation ceased, the transitioning owner could extend the period for his full-time compensation, and the successor wasn’t being asked to pay for the practice and full-time compensation at the same time."

Many firms have taken this approach and we have found that it increases the likelihood of successful client transitions, reduces the risk of client defections, and increases the value for the retiring owner.

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

Jun 16, 2015

Law Firm FInancial Management – Metrics for a Small Firm


I am a partner in a three attorney litigation firm in Boston. Two of us are partners. We are in our fourth year in practice after leaving a very large firm. We are concerned that we could be doing better financially. We are haphazard in our record keeping, have no goals, and are even sure what number matter. What are your thoughts are to the key number (metrics) for a small firm like ours?


Goals should be established for each attorney with monthly reporting showing performance against goals. Key metrics should include:

  1. Fees collected – working attorney 
  2. Fees collected – originating attorney 
  3. Fees collected – responsible attorney
  4. Billable hours – working attorney 
  5. Non-billable hours – working attorney
  6. Billing, collection, and overall realization – working attorney 
  7. Other goals – financial and non-financial 
  8. Summary dashboard report should be developed. 
  9. Attorneys should consider keeping timesheets for all worked time – billable and non-billable with specific goals for non-billable activities. 

Firm management contribution is important. If both partners do not share in the firm management responsibilities then the partner committing non-billable time to firm management should be compensated in the form of an agreement to amount or a fee credit that is run through the compensation system. If both partners participate in firm management, implement and document a management structure that clarifies management roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities for the partners, the office manager, etc. Respect the boundaries and avoid stepping over each other.

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


Jan 28, 2015

Law Firm Succession – Succession Plan for the Solo Practitioner


I came across your firm while researching law partnerships. The short story is as follows: I am a sole practitioner and have been practicing for over 35 years. I have a high volume practice and I employ 7-8 people. Business is good and actually on the rise. I have a great office manager and outstanding loyal staff. The practice is on semi- autopilot for me. I have a young associate lawyer in my office that shares space and is  learning my practice but actually seems to be making his own way in a different practice area. He wants to buy into my practice. We have had some serious talks. He's capable and I think the right person to transition with. I have asked myself why sell/partner/transition when I don't have to? I am not ready to retire. With that said a 3-5 year plan may make sense. Let me know your thoughts.


The real value for most practitioners is the cash flow from working in the practice. Exit value is secondary and only makes sense when you are ready to quit or retire.

Eventually, however you will retire (retirement, death, etc.) as the clock runs. The biggest problem that I am finding is that practitioners that are ready to exit the practice is finding attorneys willing to buy the practice or buy out partnership shares in the event of a partnership. I am working with practices where is has taken a couple of years to find the right WHO and this often dictates the WHAT – merger, partnership, Of Counsel, sale, etc. The approach that works best is an internal transition via bringing an associate into partnership. So, I would take a serious look at the attorney that you are speaking about, maybe have him become a partner (member in a LLC) with minority interest initially, and incorporate into your agreements how compensation will be handled, him acquiring additional interests down the road, and the arrangement for your retirement payout upon your actual retirement.

Don't wait until you are ready to retire – take some baby steps now.

Good luck with it.

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

Dec 30, 2014

Law Practice Management – 5 Ideas for Jump Starting Your Law Firm in 2015

Happy New Year and best wishes for both a personal and professional 2015.

Here are a few ideas to help you jump start your practice in 2015:

  1. During the next week review your 2014 personal and practice performance and consider
    1. Things that you did well and could have done better
    2. Things done poorly
    3. Things that you should have done but did not do
    4. What you should be doing now – in 2015 – to be effective in your practice
  2. Write down what results you expect – goals – for 2015 – both financial and non-financial – and compare actual results against these goals
  3. Ask each person in your firm to create and implement one goal that will improve your practice in some way (revenue, profitability, process, client satisfaction)
  4. Implement one action item that you have been things about for years and procrastinating
  5. Give some though as to what you want to be remembered for – personal and professionally

Good luck in 2015!

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




Dec 17, 2014

Law Firm Valuation – Establishing a Value for a Family Law Practice


John, where do you begin to get a value on a family law practice? It seems that one times gross revenue is unfair since it is usually one time business. I saw you speak at an ISBA event and this question was not addressed.


Regarding your question – it sort of depends on whether you are buying or selling and where you want to start. In general I agree with you that a multiple of one times gross for a family law practice is probably high. It depends on whether the practice has built up more of a firm brand vs. an individual brand. In other words institutionalized the practice. Also on where and how the firm gets business – advertising, referral sources, etc. A firm that has practice (institutional) goodwill might very well start at a multiple of one whereas a practice where the goodwill is personal goodwill the multiple might be .75 or less – in some cases even zero. I know of a few family law practices in the Chicago area that have been sold for .33 of gross revenue. 

Often the initial asking price has little to do with regard to where you end up. Often, due to the concern that the clients and business might not materialize for the new buyer many firms are sold on various forms of an "earn-out" or a small payment at closing with the remainder paid and based on a percentage of revenues collected over a period of time – 3 to 5 years.

I have seen PI and other one shot matter firms sell for one times gross revenues but this is a best case scenario. CPA firms fare much better.

If you are the seller and your practice is a personal practice you probably will have to start with an asking price around .75 or less – if you have branded the practice and have others besides yourself – you might ask for more.

If you are the buyer I would balk at 1 times gross and would want to discuss provisions for reduction in purchase price if revenues fall below a certain level over a certain time period. Better yet – no payment at closing with the payout totally based and paid as revenues are collected in the future.

Getting to "the number" will involve balancing the seller's concern that the buyer will let the practice die on the vine versus the buyer's concern that the clients and referrals with not materialize.

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








Sep 30, 2014

Law Firm Capitalization – What is the Proper Level for Partner Capital Accounts


I am the chair of the finance committee for our firm – 17 attorney firm in Chicago. We have 6 equity partners in the firm. We are in the process of admitting a new equity partner and are reviewing our capital accounts and trying to determine our capital needs. I would appreciate your ideas and thoughts.


There are two categories of capital – short-term or working capital which is used to fund daily operations and long term capital which is used to pay for capital assets such as furniture and fixtures, computers and other office equipment. I guess I am old school but I believe that short term working capital should be funded as much as possible with partner capital and long term capital funded with bank borrowing or leases. I have more and more clients that are funding working capital with partner capital and have no bank debt at all. I have other clients that finance all working capital with their bank line of credit – these firms could find themselves in dire straits if bank credit should tighten in the future.

The amount of working capital needed by a firm depends upon your practice, billing and collection cycles, whether you do contingency fee work, and whether the firm is growing and adding attorneys and staff. As a rule of thumb I suggest that a firm have three times one month's expenses excluding draws in working capital. This would need to be increased if the firm has lengthy billing and collection cycles, does contingency fee work, and is in a growth mode.

Partner capital contributions are usually made proportionately based on partner earnings or ownership percentages.

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

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