Kicking the Can

Performance problems are difficult.  Dealing with under-performing partners, associates who are not meeting the firm’s standards, or people who are “culturally challenged” is awkward, embarrassing, unprofessional and messy.  It is often easier to look the other way and ignore the problem with the hope that it will somehow go away – the law firm equivalent […]

Aligning capability and practice: Are your lawyers punching below their weight?

An increasing number of law firm leaders find themselves functioning as full-time managers. Unfortunately, in doing so, they may be getting themselves too far from the action to recognize changes in the capabilities their clients are expecting from their lawyers. Worse, managing partners may have lost an accurate assessment of their own partners’ actual capabilities. […]

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

For the past decade, law firms have taken the easy way out with personnel decisions.  To avoid making hard choices and delivering uncomfortable messages, U.S. law firms have gone on a staffing spree with non-equity partner positions.  As a result, firms find themselves massively overstaffed at the partner level.   While there are no quick fixes […]

Follow the Leader

Law firm leaders often describe running a law firm as being like “herding cats” because lawyers are so fiercely independent.  Despite being accustomed to operating in a structured legal environment, for some reason lawyers seem to take pleasure in rebelling against organizational rules and procedures.   Yet, a few firms seem to be able to enforce […]

Coaching LeBron

Most law firms have great difficulty implementing change or enforcing any form of rules or discipline among their partners.  Even trying to get lawyers to get their time in and their bills out is a battle that management frequently loses.  In fact, the problem is often as much with a firm’s leadership as it is […]

New Year’s Resolutions for Law Firm Managing Partners

It’s a shame that we tend to make New Year’s resolutions on January 1st.  For law firm managing partners, this time of year is so busy with closing the books and compensation meetings that we barely have time to focus on anything beyond what went right and wrong in 2010.  Let me give you a […]

Binge and Purge Cost Management

The recession brought about some rapid changes for law firms, most of which involved temporary cost cutting.  Then, almost as if the cost cutting exercise was designed to simply demonstrate what was possible, firms began returning to their free spending ways.  It makes one wonder how much could be added to partner earnings if law […]

Making the Statue of Liberty Disappear

One of the interesting features of managing large professional partnerships in the United States is that, apart from the tax code, there are no standards for financial reporting.  This flexibility can be a powerful tool for law firm managing partners and I suspect 2009 was a banner year for the careful management of financial statistics […]

A Global Survey of Large Law Firm Compensation Practices

While there are continuing differences between compensation practices between U.S. and Canadian firms, and law firms in the rest of the world, findings from the latest Kerma Partners’ survey reveal that global harmonization of performance and compensation management may be more likely than ever. The basis and process used to compensate partners is becoming increasingly […]

A simple question: should a law firm design its business model to best serve the clients it already has or should it select a business model and then go out and find clients who benefit from it?  It’s sort of the old “chicken and egg” question because one can argue either side.  Since it is […]

Five Unintended Consequences of Economic Recovery

As the global economy moves toward an eventual recovery, there will be some huge opportunities for law firms, as well as some minefields.  How firms deal with these issues may determine their short and long term success.  There are all sorts of possible scenarios but the five issues discussed below certainly appear to be the […]

Is Candor the Best Policy?

Communication Problems in Law Firms It does not much help that in good times and bad there are some significant structural barriers to good communication, even in firms that try hard to be transparent and open in their information sharing.    The use (or misuse) of email, and stilted discussions at formal meetings become a poor […]

Plan B

The economic downturn has caused many businesses to reconsider the viability of their strategic direction.  This is especially true for law firms that primarily deal with business clients and are impacted by both the global decline in business transactions and clients’ overall desire to reduce costs by using less legal services.  For many law firms, […]

Hitting the Reset Button

Technology is a huge part of all of our lives.  One common feature of almost every technological gadget we own is that when it hiccups, the first thing we have to do is hit the reset button.  Whether it’s an iPhone, Windows Vista, or your TV cable box, it seems the answer to every problem […]

Managing Expectations: Compensating Unique Lateral Partners

Occasionally firms are presented with a unique opportunity to attract a senior in-house lawyer or governmental official as a lateral partner.  If such a person becomes successful, the rewards to the firm can be staggering.  But the failure rate of lawyers who intend to build a practice from scratch, regardless of their credentials, is high.  […]

Blessed Are the Meek

It comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever worked for or with a law firm that taking action to implement any form of decision or plan can be a major problem.  Whether it involves a sophisticated strategy or enforcing the most routine practice requirements, some law firms seem to have a tough time […]

The Value of Clean Underwear and Voluntary Turnover

It’s common wisdom that voluntary turnover is a bad thing for law firms and should be avoided.  But what if it can’t be avoided?  Suppose that, like forest fires, turnover is a natural part of the environment necessary to clean out underbrush and give the strongest saplings the room and sunlight to grow.  Does it, […]

Underproductive Partners

Every law firm has a different name for their problem partners — “performance challenged,” “retired without telling anyone,” “revenue impaired.”   Whatever they are called, partners who are performing below (often way below) firm standards are at the top of the managing partner’s “to do” list in just about every large law firm in the world.  […]

Tweaking Compensation

Of course, there is no perfect compensation system.  The unique culture and values of a firm dictates how it splits up profits.  What seems like a fair system in a good year may be viewed as painfully draconian in a bad year.  Not surprisingly, any individual lawyer’s satisfaction with the current plan is directly related […]

Finding New Leadership: Succession Planning for Professional Service Firms

All of a sudden, succession planning seems to be on almost every professional service firm’s management agenda.  In part, this interest in succession planning results from baby boomers (the largest segment of our society and the generation of most firms’ management) reaching an age where they are confronting their own mortality.  In part, it may […]