Managing Partners Forum

The successful managing partner develops a clear sense of strategic direction, so that on most days most partners are marching in the same direction. How one does this is what the Forum is all about.

T. William Porter, Esq.
Porter & Hedges LLP – Houston, TX

Profitability

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Articles

  • Midsized Law Firms Report Things Getting Better  ** NEW **
    by John Remsen, Jr.

    The ABA’a Law Practice magazine asked us to contribute an article for its finance column, drawing upon data collected at The MPF 2014 Leadership Conference. Eighty-five (85) managing partners, mostly from mid-size law firms, attended the full-day conference, and we used audience polling technology to query the crowd about a range of topics.

    The article highlights data about financial performance so far this year, alternative fee arrangements and the metric most preferred by managing partners to assess their firms’ overall financial health.  

    • 2014 Has Been a Pretty Good Year for MidLaw
      Forty-two percent (42%) of managing partners said their firms were performing about as expected so far in 2014. Thirty-six percent (36%) said they were beating expectations.
       
    • AFA’s Are Not Exactly Taking Off
      Forty-eight percent (48%) of managing partners reported that alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) represent less than 5% of firm revenue. Twenty-one percent (21%) said it’s in the 6-10% range. Twenty-seven percent (27%) said they proactively pitch AFAs, with 2/3 reporting little interest from clients.
       
    • It’s About the Bottom Line
      Twenty-five percent (25%) of firm leaders said they believe that “Total Firm-wide Profit” is the best indicator of a firm’s overall health. Twenty-one percent (21%) preferred “Revenue per Lawyer.”
    We also write about succession planning in the article. Are your firm’s current crop of young lawyers up to the task of inheriting the place?
     

  • The 2012 Law Firm Leaders Survey 
    by The American Lawyer

    Despite uncertain US and global economies, leaders of the nation's largest law firms are feeling surprisingly upbeat about 2013, with 75% describing themselves as "optimistic" about the year ahead. For ten years now, The American Lawyer has surveyed the managing partners of the nation's 200 largest law firms to get their take on the legal industry in the coming year. Some other highlights:

    • 80% intend to expand their litigation practices in 2013, especially IP litigation.
    • 41% say corporate will be the most challenged practice area. Real estate is also expected to struggle.
    • 67% of firms used contract attorneys in 2012.
    • 45% of firms deequitized underperforming partners in 2012.
    • 23% say they will make capital calls in 2013 to keep debt levels in check.
    Be sure to check out the charts and graphs by clicking on "Highlights from the 2012 Law Firm Leadership Survey" under the illustration at the top of the article. Really cool.

  • The Next Best Thing After Cutting Expenses: Collections
    by John T. Podbielski., Esq.

    In recent years and as the Great Recession drags on, many law firms have been challenged to maintain, much less increase, their profitability. At first, they looked for ways to cut expenses. They let staff and associates go, cancelled firm retreats, slashed investments in marketing and technology and, in some cases, de-equitized underperforming partners. We're all for dealing with underperforming partners, but many of these actions are penny-wise and pound-foolish in our opinion. The real way for your firm to improve its profitability in the near-term is to get serious about your billing and collections practices. John's article offers some great ways to go about it.

  • Ten Tips to Improve Profit in 90 Days or Less
    by Eric G. Dewey

    In our November MPF Flash Survey, managing partners reveal that the most effective ways their firms have improved firm profitability over the last three years. Their answers, in order of effectiveness, are 1) Improved Billing and Collections Practices, 2) Marketing and Business Development, 3) Improved Efficiency in Staffing Matters, and 4) Rate Increases, where possible. Now comes Eric Dewey offers his ten tips - ranging from dealing with underperforming partners to calling on top clients - that can be implemented in 90 days or less.    

  • 2011 Law Firms in Transition
    An Altman Weil Flash Survey

    by Thomas S. Clay and Eric A. Seeger

    This year's AW Flash Survey of leaders from firms with 50+ lawyers surprises me in its optimism. And it's back to business as usual when it comes to annual rate increases at the country's largest law firms. Among the survey findings:  

    • 95% of firms increased hourly rates in 2011, by an average of 4%.
    • 95% of firms offer alternative fee arrangements (AFAs), and most say it's less profitable than work billed on an hourly basis.
    • 68% of firm leaders believe that fewer equity partners are a permanent structural change in the legal profession.
    • 60% of firm leaders say that lateral hires do not meet expectations. 
    • 60% of firm leaders believe that contract lawyers are on the rise and a permanent trend.
    The survey was released in late May and, if you have not already done so, we recommend that you circulate it to your partners with your take on things and what it means for your firm.
    Click here (or above) to download the complete 42-page survey report.
    Click here to download the 10-page executive summary.   

  • Marketing to Your Existing Clients: Three Can't Miss Programs 
    by John Remsen, Jr.

    This classic article originally appeared in Law Marketing Exchange, LMA's national newsletter, back in 1997. Although written almost 15 years ago, its lessons are more important and relevant than ever. Take great care of your current clients - the ones you want to keep, anyway - and focus your marketing resources accordingly. Provide solid legal work and great service. Go visit them. Hold a client appreciation event. Unlike trying to figure out all this social media stuff, it's not rocket science.

  • 2010 Law Firms in Transition: An Altman Weil Flash Survey 
    by Altman Weil, Inc.

    Here's yet another report suggesting that alternative fee arrangements are here to stay, with BigLaw leading the way. According to the survey of mostly larger law firms, 95% say they use some form of alternative fee arrangements. Yet, the percentage of total revenue generated through non-hourly based billing remains quite low.

  • How Small and Midsize Firms Weathered the Storm 
    by The National Law Journal

    After steep declines in 2008, both revenue and profit for mid-size US law firms have leveled off and remained flat in 2009-10, according to the just-released 2010 edition of this annual survey. With participation from 187 law firms, it's one of the most important and comprehensive economic surveys for smaller and mid-size firms.

  • Is There a Sea Change toward AFAs?
    In-House Counsel Give It a Solid "Maybe" 

    by Inside Counsel

    Over half of in-house counsel - 56%, to be precise - say there has been a "sea change" in how fees are paid to outside counsel. Prompted by the pressure to reduce the overall cost of legal services and fueled by the ACC's Value Challenge, the time seems right to affect change. Yet, the gap remains wide between the perception of fundamental transformation and the actual practice.

  • Isn't It Time That Your Firm Develops a Strategic Plan?
    by John Remsen, Jr.

    Do you and your partners have a written, cohesive firm strategy? Or are you merely sharing office space with other sole practitioners? Strategic planning is the key differentiator, but it's not for the faint of heart.

  • Study: Location, Firm Size Key to Billing Rates 
    by Ross Todd, Law.com

    Here's an interesting study that puts law firm billing practices under the microscope. It examines invoices received by 36 large corporate clients finds that location and firm size - not lawyer expertise - are the biggest determinants of a lawyer's hourly rate. It also concludes that 75% of proposed rate hikes are accepted, and that a lawyer with the title of "partner" can charge up to $100 more per hour than an "associate" with the same experience.

  • Alternative Billing Ideas 
    by Audrey H. Rubin

    Alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) are a hot topic these days. Just about every agenda at law firm management conferences over the past few years has at least one or two sessions on the issue. The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) seems to be deadly serious about them, too. Yet, most law firms are not in a very good position to act confidently. This article explains AFAs in simple and easy-to-understand terms.

  • Firms' Billing Rates Inched Up During 2009 
    by Karen Sloan

    It's hard to believe but, even during the worst economic recession in over 70 years, US law firms managed to increase their billing rates in 2009. The average was 2.5% according to a recent survey of the nation's largest law firms conducted by The National Law Journal. That increase compares to a 7.7% rate climb in 2007 and 4.3% in 2008. The survey also indicates that a larger percentage of revenue for most firms was generated from alternative billing arrangements.   

  • Associate Pay Cuts Here to Stay, Say Firms and Analysts 
    by Julie Triedman

    According to this article that originally appeared on AmericanLawyer.com in December, a growing number of law managing partners and consultants say that steep cuts in associate compensation are here to stay. "We do not see any movement to reinstate pre-recession pay levels," says Altman Weil consultant Jim Cotterman.  Starting salaries for first-year associates reached a staggering $160,000 a year at blue-chip firms in New York, Los Angeles and Washington.

  • Keep an Eye on Your Firm's Billing Practices
    by Law 360

    According to research conducted by Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, 55% of lawyers in private practice admit to overbilling on occasion. The temptation only becomes more severe as there is less work to be dome. Don't let this happen at your firm! Not only is the practice unethical, it may also cause irreparable damage to one of your firm's most valuable assets - its reputation.

  • 15 Recession-Response Tips
    by Linda Oligschlaeger

    Recession or not, this article from Law Practice magazine includes fifteen really good ideas for lawyers of law firms, regardless of firm size or practice mix. Many of Linda's suggestions focus on client service and business development. None of them involve rocket science.

  • Small Firms Had It Right All Along
    by Law Office Management and Administrative Report

    Smaller and midsize firms performed much better than their “BigLaw” counterparts during the recession according to this article summarizing the findings of the Small Law Firm Economic Impact Report 2009. The reason? Less leverage, lower rates and better service. It also reports that 86% of small firms (defined as 10-90 lawyers) have had no layoffs in the last six months, and that 83% intend to maintain current compensation levels for lawyers and staff in 2009. The article appears in this month’s issue of IOMA’s Law Office Management & Administration Report. Click here to purchase the full report for $399. 

  • Law Firms 'Over the Worst' of Recession, PwC Report Reveals
    by Rachel Rothwell

    The world’s largest law firms are starting to enjoy the rebounding economy. According to this article from the UK’s Law Society Gazette, profits per partner are up sharply – 18% for the world’s ten largest law firms and a whopping 41% for firms in the 11 to 25 spots – since January 1st says a just released research report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The report says that “profit margins also saw a boost in firms of all sizes.” 

  • A Broken Business Model
    by Joel Henning

    Henning asks "Will it take a revolution to change the way law firms operate?" Will today's current economic crisis force law firms to rethink the old model of annual hourly rate increases? Radical ideas may not only require a change in business model, but a change to the code of professional responsibility.

  • Dealing with the Downturn: How Law Firms Can Meet the Challenges and Exploit the Opportunities
    by Stephen Armstrong, John Claydon, Tony King and Norman Letalik

    This two-part Lex Mundi article focuses on what law firm leaders can do to deal with the downturn through both aggressive law firm economics and strengthening client relationships. The suggested practices can help firms survive the downturn and strategically position themselves for the recovery.

  • Do Law Firm Compensation Systems Drive Profitability?
    by Edge International

    While there is certainly no such thing as the "right" compensation system, here's an interesting article from our friends at Edge Group concluding that formula-driven compensation systems hurt firm profitability.   

  • Legal Strategy 101: It's Time for Law Firms to Re-Think Their Business Model 
    by Wharton School of Business

    This fascinating article from the Wharton Business School asserts that the global recession is forcing law firms to change the way they do business. 

  • What is Your Law Firm Worth?
    by Peter A. Giuliani

    Determining the value of your law firm is much more complicated than you think. See this article to find out why.

  • Ensuring Long-Term Firm Profitability – Folks, It's Not Just the RPL!
    by Peter A. Giuliani

    Giuliani looks at the issue of law firm profitability – not just in the “short run,” but more importantly, over the “long run.”

  • Is Mandatory Retirement a Fading Relic?
    by Peter A. Giuliani

    Should law firms require partners to retire at a certain age? Setting aside any legal issues (age discrimination anyone?), is this an archaic practice or is it critical to firm succession planning? This article argues that retirement has nothing to do with a partner's age.

  • A Primer on Computerized Case & Matter Management Systems
    by Andrew Z. Adkins, III

    Your firm's case management system is the backbone of your organization. Whether you use it to calendar deadlines and court dates for your litigation practice or to track your firm's experience in a particular area of law, you can't afford to overlook this important tool. Here's an unbiased primer to guide you from selection to training and implementation.

  • Outsourcing Your Law Firm’s Information Technology
    by Andrew Z. Adkins, III

    Should your firm outsource its IT department? As the first sentence of this article reveals, the decision can be a real pain. Better inform your decision by taking an honest assessment of how your much technology your firm is currently using and how many people are using it. This read will help you consider all the options.

  • Wasted Time and Money: The Top 10 Ways That Firms Squander Precious Marketing Resources
    by John Remsen, Jr.

    Counting down the Top 10 ways that law firms often squander their marketing resources. Is your firm guilty of any of these?