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Oct 20, 2015

Law Firm Competitive Strategy – Daring to Be Different


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.


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:

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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:


  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.


  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


  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.


  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


  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)


  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


  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

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



Jul 14, 2015

Law Firm Dissolution – Steps To Be Taken


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?


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



May 20, 2015

Law Firm Succession – Coming to Terms With Aging


I am the managing partner in a 12 attorney firm in Chicago. We have 6 partners and 6 associate. We a boutique litigation firm. Three of our partners are in their mid to late 60s and should be thinking about retirement but they seem to be in denial? How to we begin to addresses this issue?


Several years ago I was giving a presentation to an ALA (Association of Legal Administrators) Chapter and after the presentation an administrator came up to me and asked, “what kind of financial incentives can we put in place to encourage some of our senior attorneys to retire”? I responded by saying “help them identify some hobbies.” While my comment was partially in jest, many attorneys,
especially baby boomers, have invested so much into their careers and law practices they have not had either the desire or time to invest into other areas of interest.

The more difficult components of retirement include:

For some people the best way to retire may be to continue working.      

For others, rather than being a time of easing back and retiring into old age or continuing to work in one’s old job or career, it can be a time of personal growth and an opportunity to explore other interests, callings, and vocations. It can be a time of freedom to do what you always wanted to do but could not because you had to earn money and the pressure of work prevented you from pursuing you dreams and interests that were in tune with you values and beliefs. Here is a list of a few areas that lawyers approaching retirement might want to explore:

  1. Teaching courses at a local law school or university
  2. Pro-bono work
  3. Writing
  4. Photography, gardening, travel, or other hobbies
  5. Serving as a director on a profit or non-profit board
  6. Counseling
  7. Volunteering

Retirement planning begins with taking the time to think about how one will use their time.
If you live fifteen years beyond your retirement your will have 28,800 hours that will have to be filled with retirement activities. (five days a week, eight hours a day, 48 weeks, for fifteen years)

Find ways to encourage your senior attorneys to explore and think about their future and explore other interests - both at home and at the firm.

Click here for our blog on succession

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


Apr 14, 2015

Law Firm Associate Compensation – Bonus Tied to Performance


I am a partner in a 14 attorney firm in San Francisco and I serve on our associate compensation committee. Presently associate compensation is based on a salary and discretionary bonus. I would like to see a stronger tie to performance. I would appreciate your thoughts.


I believe that salary should be the primary element in your compensation system for associates. However, you might want to pay a performance bonus for working attorney fees in excess of a certain threshold – say three times salary. So, if you are paying an associate $100,000 you might pay a bonus of 20% for fees collected in excess $300,000 ($75,000 per quarter) and pay the bonuses quarterly. In order to reward other contributions you might want to tie additional bonus to accomplishment of specific strategic goals agreed to in advance each year by you and each associate. For example:

Thus, a maximum of 10% of salary could be received by the associate in goal bonus ($10,000 for a $100,000 associate) and $20,000 could be received if $400,000 in fees were collected – for a total of $30,000 in bonuses.

The goals should be require some degree of stretch and should be result orientated rather than activity orientated. Chair on a bar association committee is a result – attending bar associate meetings without being notices is an activity.

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


Feb 17, 2015

Transitioning to a More Business-Like Law Firm


I am a partner in a 12 attorney general business firm located in St. Louis, Missouri. I was elected as managing partner earlier this year. I have been a lawyer and with this firm for eight years. I also have a MBA degree and managed a small business before becoming a lawyer. Frankly, I have been amazed at how law firms conduct business and I would like to change our thinking and our culture. Do you have any thoughts?


Here are five tips that you might find useful.

TIP #1: Work with the attorneys in the firm and help them develop more of a business mindset. Try to get them to become more entrepreneur and learn how to think like businesspersons. Encourage them to look at the world from their client’s perspective and consider their clients their business partners. 

TIP #2: Encourage all attorneys to select their clients carefully. Establish client acceptance criteria. Learn how to say no. Dump undesirable clients.

TIP #3: Encourage all attorneys to brand themselves. Ask them to look for was ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors and to become perceived as the only attorney that can do what they do. Ask them to make a decision – what do they want to be known and remembered for? Unique services, unique client groups, different service delivery strategy, personal style. Have the firm and each attorney create a five-year plan for goal accomplishment.

TIP #4: Encourage each attorney to become “solutions orientated” and become consultants – trusted advisors to their clients as opposed to simply their task and process attorneys. Solutions may involve activities and services other than legal services. Ask each attorney to think out-of-the-box and outside of typical frameworks in which they are comfortable.

TIP #5: Conduct a firm-wide management and leadership assessment and identify strengths and weaknesses. Enhance management and leadership skills through skill development training and personnel acquisitions.

Good luck!

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


Nov 18, 2014

Law Firm Administrators – Effecting Change by Selling Your Ideas to Your Partners


I am the firm administrator with a 27 attorney firm in Detroit. We have fifteen partners and twelve associates. I have been eight months with the firm and in this position. I replaced another administrator who was terminated because the partners did not believe he lived up to their expectations. He was their firm administrator. This is my first law firm and I want to be successful. I feel that I am struggling and am not sure of my priorities. I would appreciate your thoughts.


Few things are as important to an administrator’s future as that person’s ability to influence the decision-making process and effect change.  Skills and competencies are important but so are results. In order to transcend to the next level and enhance their value to their law firms, administrators must help their firms actually effect positive changes and improvements and improve performance. This requires selling ideas to partners in the firm and having them accept and actually implemented. To succeed administrators must achieve three outcomes:

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



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