I am the owner of a small estate planning firm in Kansas City, Missouri. I have two associates and four staff members. I am considering acquiring a small (solo) practice in a nearby community. I have read some of your articles as well as your book on succession planning and valuation, and the multiple of gross revenue used to establish a goodwill value for a law firm. What are some of the factors that can impact whether the multiple is higher or lower – a firm’s potential value?
While multiples of gross revenue is a common approach, a key ingredient should be the profitability picture before distribution to owners. In other words, what is the quality of earnings? A firm that nets fifty percent of gross revenue would generally command a higher price that a firm that nets twenty-five percent. Factors that should be considered in determining a firm’s potential value are:
The average partner or owner earnings figure is the critical component. If the average partner/owner’s income is low, normally the practice is not worth much. A good business person will not pay for a business and pay a premium when it cannot be justified.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
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.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC