Ed offers 5 ways to increase your law firm’s revenue. 1. Emphasize collections. 2. Hire lateral lawyers to meet specific demands, a new practice area, a new need. 3. Leverage technology. 4. Create a cooperative compensation model that emphasizes the law firm as an institution. 5. Outsource functions that are better done by others. Delegate.
Large firms, more than we care to know, have made news in the last couple of years by "going under," i.e., defunct! Firms such as Howrey and Heller Erhman became the targets of personnel raids. Very good lawyers from these, and similar, law firms departed and joined other major, national law firms. Today’s WSJ comments on the current state of affairs for some of AmLaw 100 law firms.
Some folks are asking whether your new lateral partner have any unwanted baggage? In some instances, the new firm accepted partners from the old firm with the understanding that the lawyer would bring over clients from the old firm as well as his "unfinished business." This provides for immediate billing .. and therefore an opportunity to acquire great talent at a very low or zero cost.
These firms, and others, have gone into bankruptcy to collect funds to pay the firms’ creditors. In a law firm, the major assets "walk out the door every evening. Computers, furniture and real estate are of minimum value, if any, in a law firm. Accounts receivable are a major asset, though often difficult to collect from clients when they know there will be little serious effort to collect.
But, when the partners from the old, now defunct, law firm went, they generally took "their" book of business with them … and the "unfinished business" of the clients that went with them. One argument is that clients have a right to seek their own choice of lawyer. And the other argument is that the partner and new law firm benefited, resulting in a profit to the new firm that truly belongs to the old firm.
This battle will be fought for years, I suspect. But, the reality of our world is that anyone can sue anyone else, even if wrong. In the meantime, the largest pool of cash available to the trustee in bankruptcy for the defunct firms is the new firm and, perhaps, the lawyers, individually, from the old firm. Whether legitimate or not, new firms have been economically compelled to settle many of such claims in order to go on with the new firm business.
The new firms thought they were getting a steal! Maybe. But, I’m reminded of the old say that "…if it looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true." There is a cost to everything, even a very attractive, new lateral partner with great talent and a great book of business.
Departures from large law firms continue. And more than one person is now asking what is the "normal" rate of departures? One estimate suggested 7%.
We are living in an environment that many people call a “new normal.” Our economy, as well as the legal community, has been turned upside down in the last couple of years. There is no ”typical” answer that has emerged yet. Departures are sometimes voluntary for better opportunities (or retirement) and sometimes involuntary where law firms are seeking to adjust their supply of lawyers with their clients’ demand.
As I mentioned in a recent interview in the New York Times, older lawyers are being asked to leave law firms when their productivity declines. That didn’t happen so frequently in the past. Generally, the age factor is only coincidental with the decrease in productivity. Though sometimes it is directly correlated because of a change in attitude by the experienced practitioner who wants to slow down and spend more time in other adventures. This tends to be a personal decision, not a trend. We have many lawyers in their 70s and 80s still active and capable contributors to their clients and the profession.
At the other end of the spectrum, newer lawyers who are not asked to become a partner in a firm believe their opportunities will be greater with another firm. They seek to make a lateral transfer from their existing firm to another one. The second law firm may accept them because they see a skilled practitioner, someone who received training at the expense of another law firm, who will fill a gap in their business model. This comes when they want to grow and enhance their capacity for clients or begin a new practice area to enhance their service offerings for existing clients. The nes lateral fits well under these circumstances.
Then, there are the new law school graduates who are finding the pipeline from education to practice being clogged up by the decrease in client demands and oversupply in some law firms. It will take several years for this phenomenon to adjust. Until then, I don’t think we can say there is a “typical” law firm departure rate.