Our Chicago law firm of 17 attorneys – 12 partners – 5 associates – is entering its second decade. While we were extremely successful during our early years, the last few years have been a challenge. Since 2008 we have been holding our own and doing okay. We have not laid off any attorneys but the partners are making less money than they made three or four years ago. Billable hours and production seems to be down? Do we have a work ethic or motivation problem? What can we do to get the attorneys producing more billable hours? I would appreciate your thoughts and any suggestions that you may have.
This is an issue that many firms are experiencing. Here is what I am seeing in firm after firm:
Several of our clients recently found that they were barking up the wrong tree. They assumed that the lower billable hours and productivity was a result of associates and partners not working hard enough and were searching for compensation approaches to motivate the attorneys to work harder. Further analysis however revealed that the real problem was reduced client demand and excess lawyer capacity. As a result approaches were taken to:
Examine your financials and talk with you people so that you can discover the real problem – work ethic, motivation, compensation, or client demand and lawyer capacity. Once you discover the real cause of the problem you will be able to think you way to the solution.
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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC