Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: We

Apr 17, 2019


Law Firm Merger/Acquisition – Should We Merge or Acquire

Question: 

I am the managing partner of an eight attorney firm in Dayton Ohio. We have two equity partners (both in our early fifties), two non-equity partners, and four associates. Our practice is a very niche specific practice and there are only three or four other practices in the state that do the work that we do. There is another firm in Cleveland, Ohio that has approached us regarding possible merger or acquisition. The firm does similar work that our firm does but this firm also handles some areas that we don’t handle but would like to get into that falls within our niche area. There are two founding partners in the firm – one in his late sixties and the other in her early seventies, one associate attorney, and four staff members. The two partners are planning on moving towards retirement and are looking for a succession strategy. They have not shared with us their timeline or any financial information. We have had one face-to-face meeting and several phone calls. We would appreciate your take on this, next steps, and whether we should pursue further.

Response: 

You have not indicated whether your firm has a strategic plan? If you do my next question is whether this practice area and having another office three and one half hours away supports the vision of your firm?  Often, but not always, a merger will emerge as a way to achieve some aspect of the firm’s vision. For example, a merger might help the firm:

The above would be right reasons to consider a merger or acquisition.

You should take pause if the reasons you are considering merging or acquiring the other firm include:

If your firm does not have a strategic plan you may want to at least engage in some form of internal self-analysis to insure that you are looking through a clear lens, are building a sound business case for the merger or acquisition, and are identifying the characteristics of the ideal merger/acquisition candidate.

In your situation you are looking at actually acquiring a practice three and a half hours away with two senior partners that will be retiring. Obviously, there are risks but the devil will be in the details that will come out of a thorough due diligence examination which I believe is your next step. Here is a link to a prior post concerning information that you should ask the other firm to provide. 

Your due diligence examination should focus on:

Right up front you should ask the partners in the other firm their specific timeline for retirement and how long they will be available for client and management transition. A key issue will be whether clients will remain with the firm when they retire? Are there others in the firm, non-equity partners or associates, that the clients have confidence in to the extent they would remain with the firm or will this all be on your shoulders as owners of the acquired firm? The other question you should should ask up front is what the partners of the other firm are looking for in the form of purchase price or compensation for the firm.

Click here for our blog on mergers

Click here for articles on other topics

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

 

Mar 10, 2017


Law Firm Merger – Are We a Suitable Candidate

Question: 

Our firm is a two partner firm in Columbus, Ohio. We have two staff members. There are no other attorneys in the firm. We have been in practice together for seventeen years. I am sixty two and my partner is in his fifties. My practice is limited to intellectual property and my partner’s practice is limited to medical malpractice defense. Recently, as a result of lack of coverage, our unwillingness to hire associate attorneys, and our frustrations with dealing with management issues we have decided that we would like to merge with a larger firm. However, we are concerned that our numbers may not be satisfactory. Our five year averages are as follows:

Since we split the pot evenly we each made $130,000 on average.

With these numbers are we a suitable candidate or are we just whistling in the wind? We would appreciate your thoughts.

Response: 

Obviously these are not great numbers. Depending on firm size and type of practice – most firms (small firms) are looking for revenue per lawyer in the range of $360,000 and up. Many firms are looking for books of business that will keep the candidate and an associate busy – $750,000 plus.

However, law firms are also looking for new sources of business (clients) and lawyer talent. There are firms out there that have the work and need help with the work and might be interested in your talent and skills as well as the clients that you could bring in. You may not be able to join the firm as an equity partner but may be able to join as a non-equity partner. (Depends on firm size) Due to the very different practice areas that each of you have you may not find opportunities in the same firm.

I encourage you to look around, start your search, and see what happens.

I have seen many situations similar to yours that have resulted in successful mergers and lateral or Of Counsel positions.

Click here for our blog on mergers

Click here for our article on mergers

Click here for articles on other topics

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

 

Sep 07, 2016


Law Firm Profitability – How Do I Know if We Have Enough Work for the Attorneys?

Question:

I am the owner of an eight attorney estate planning firm in Jacksonville, Florida. Our firm handles estate planning and estate administration. For this entire year our financial numbers are way down and I am getting concerned. For example, compared to last year:

I would appreciate any ideas on what I should do next.
 
Response:
 
Several of my estate planning/administration firms from different areas of the country are advising me that business is way down this year and they can't put their finger on the problem other than demand and timing.
 
I would start by:
 
  1. Take a look an your new matter intakes for the year – month by month.
  2. Examine the referral and marketing sources as to where this business is coming from.
  3. Prepare a open matter inventory report by attorney and matter type to get a count of the number of matters each attorney is handling
  4. Examine billable hours, non-billable hours, collected working attorney fees and realization rates for each attorney.
Compare each of the metrics above with last year and prior years. Meet with all of the attorneys and review their matters in progress and discuss their workloads. Also review your marketing budget and marketing programs to see if changes are warranted.
 
This should give you a feel for what is going on. You could have problems in the following areas:
 
While you may find that you have problems in each of the above areas I suspect that your biggest problem is that attorneys do not have enough work and your business is down. If this is the case I would question how they are using their non-billable hours – are they doing more business development and marketing – or they simply pacing their time so they fill an eight hour day.
 
If your problem is lack of work you are going to have to see if additional marketing can generate the business needed to support the attorneys you have on board or reduce your attorney headcount.
 

Click here for our financial management topic blog

Click here for our law firm profit improvement blog

Click here for articles on other topics

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

 
 
 
 

 

Jul 26, 2016


Law Firm Marketing – How Much Should We Be Spending on Marketing?

Question:

I am the managing partner of a 12 attorney firm in Providence, Rhode Island. In our recent partner meetings we have been discussing ramping up marketing. How much should we be spending on marketing?

Response:

Studies that have been conducted indicate that law firms that provide services to business firms (B2B) spend approximately 2.4% of fee revenue on marketing. However, law firms that focus on individual consumers (retail law if you will) spend much more – 10%+ of fee revenues on marketing – especially if strong referral networks are not in place. I have several PI, SSDI, Elder Law and Estate Planning firm clients that are spending 10%+ of their fee revenue or greater on marketing. I have some extremely successful PI firm clients spending 20% of their revenue on marketing. 

The amount of appropriate investment can depend upon referral networks in place. I have successful PI and Estate Planning firms that are spending very little on marketing, are getting all of their business from their referral networks, and spending next to nothing on marketing and advertising. (By referrals I am speaking about professional referrals not involving a referral fee and client referrals. If referral fees are involved they should be considered a marketing cost) So it depends upon your situation, the type of cases you are going after, etc.

Be careful of spending to be spending. Marketing expense scan be a deep hold that yields no return on investment. Insure that your marketing investments are targeted, well thought out, measured, and are working. Determine up from whether your goal is long term brand building or short term lead generation going in.

Click here for our blog on marketing 

Click here for articles on other topics

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

 

Feb 09, 2016


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

Question:

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?

Response:

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

Click here for our blog on marketing 

Click here for articles on other topics

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

 

 

Nov 17, 2015


Law Firm Fee Increases – Should We Increase Our Fees?

Question:

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.

Response:

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:

  1. Pull a random representative list (by timekeeper and type of matter) of matters that have been concluded during the past six months. Say 10-20 matters.
  2. Calculate the effective hourly rates for each matter overall as well as by timekeeper class. (partner, associate, paralegal)
  3. Compare the calculated effective rate to your internal standard time billing rates as well as to external benchmarks. (Other firms from published survey data) How do they compare? What did it cost to staff the matter?
  4. Review the time detail for each of these matters and ask questions. You might want to flow chart and document the work flow. Is the firm working smart? Is time being dumped on these flat rate matters so that a timekeeper's hours look good on the production reports?  Is the firm using the right mix of paralegals and attorneys to staff the work? Is there wasted or duplicative effort? Is technology being used? Can work steps be eliminated or reduced? Should the firm consider a "limited representation" unbundled option?
  5. Pilot test a few new approaches and measure the impact upon profitability.

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.

Click here for our blog on competitive business models

Click here for articles on other topics

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

Oct 28, 2014


Law Firm Marketing – Should We Advertise?

Question:

I am the managing partner of a six attorney general practice firm located in Arlington Heights, Illinois. We have been in practice for ten years. In the past most of our business has come to us through client and attorney referrals. We have not advertised. However, several of our attorneys are pushing us to embark on an extensive advertising program. I am interested in your thoughts.

Response:

Keep in mind that advertising is only one form of promotion and promotion is only one of the four elements of a firm's marketing mix. Other elements such as service strategy, pricing strategy, and service delivery strategy are often more important to the firm than its promotion strategy. For firms that are providing commodity type legal services such as personal injury, divorce etc, extensive advertising can work very effectively. However, for firms that are providing customized differentiated legal services this form of promotion is usually not effective nor appropriate. This is why it is so important for law firms to formulate their business and marketing strategies and plans before implementing specific marketing promotional programs.

Click here for our blog on marketing 

Click here for articles on other topics

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

 

 

 

    Subscribe to our Blog