Two Great ISBA Member Benefits Sponsored by
A Value of $1,344, Included with Membership

Best Practice Tips


Asked and Answered

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

Q. I am a partner in a 45-lawyer firm in Memphis and a member on the firm’s executive committee. We are planning on having a two-day planning retreat in June of this year. We have had these retreats every year for the past six years. Past retreats have only included attorneys. This year we are considering including staff members. We would appreciate your thoughts as to whether this is a good idea.

A. A firm invites all key staff to a retreat when they can play a major role in identifying problems and developing solutions. A firm retreat is an excellent forum if the partners or management have determined that individuals at different levels within the firm are having communication problems – for example – where communication is inadequate between:

  • Equity partners and non-equity partners
  • Partners and associates
  • Attorneys and staff

Having these individuals participate in solving their own communication problems at the retreat usually produces better results than those obtained when the partners hand down orders that may not deal with the real issues. Staff participation can help identify problems, involve more firm members after the retreat in the implementation of solutions, and improve buy in.    

Asked and Answered

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

Q. I am the managing partner of a six-lawyer general practice firm in Chicago. We have four partners and two associates and have been in practice for 20 years. While we are holding our own financially we would like to do better. The partners have never earned more than $175,000 – some years not even that. What can we do to improve profitability?

Asked and Answered

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

Q. I am a newly appointed managing partner for an 18-attorney firm in Dayton, Ohio. We are an employment law litigation firm that represents plaintiffs on a contingency fee basis. We have been in business for five years and are facing severe cash flow and profitability challenges primarily due to lackluster contingency fee outcomes. Do you have any guidelines or suggestions as to what we should aim for?

Asked and Answered

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

Q. We have a two-partner firm in Columbus, Ohio. We have two staff members, and there are no other attorneys in the firm. We have been in practice together for 17 years. I am 62 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:

  • Gross Revenue – $500,000
  • Expenses – $240,000
  • Net Income – $260,000

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.

Asked and Answered

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

Q. I am the owner of a plaintiff personal injury law firm in Arlington, Texas. I have three associate attorneys, six non-lawyer case managers, and three other staff members. Our marketing consists of our yellow pages program and our website. I am considering TV advertising and I would appreciate your thoughts concerning venturing into this arena.

Asked and Answered

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

Q.  We have a 16-attorney business law firm in Cleveland, Ohio – six equity partners and 10 associates. The equity partners have been discussing putting in place an associate attorney career advancement program and outlining equity partner admission requirements. Can you share your thoughts on what we should be considering and how we should get started?

Asked and Answered

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

Q.  We have a 12-attorney business litigation firm in Sacramento, California. I am one of three members on our technology committee. Our IT infrastructure consists of an in-house Microsoft file server, a separate Microsoft Exchange e-mail server, and document management and time, billing, and accounting software. Our documents are stored locally and managed by the locally installed document management software. Several of our partners have talked with other firms that are operating totally in the cloud. We would appreciate whether moving to the cloud is something that we should consider?

Asked and Answered

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

Q. We have a 25-attorney firm based in San Antonio, Texas. We have 15 equity partners. We are equal partners and have equal ownership interests. Our partners are paid based upon ownership shares. Thus, each is paid the same. The system has worked well for us for many years and has supported our team-based collaborative culture. However, we are having issues with non-productive partners, and some of the productive partners feel that the compensation system is no longer fair. Some of the partners have suggested that we move to a formulaic system. Other partners in the firm feel that such a system would destroy the collaborative culture we have built. We appreciate your thoughts.

Asked and Answered

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

Q. We have a 12-attorney business litigation firm in Springfield. I am part of our three-member management committee and have been charged with helping the firm find and hire our first legal administrator. While we have a bookkeeper who handles our billing and accounting, the rest of the firm's management matters are handled by the management committee. We believe we have reached a size where we need help with managing day-to-day operations. What sort of skill set and type of person should we be looking for?

Asked and Answered

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

Q. I am the owner of a personal injury plaintiff practice in downtown Chicago. I am the only attorney in the firm. I have two legal assistants. I am 66 years old and am starting to think about retirement and how to exit my practice. I would like to sell the practice to another law firm or practitioner. Does my practice have any value and can it even be sold?