What Is It About Some Law Firms?

April 11

successful law firms, profitable, growthWhat is it about some law firms that allows them to be successful in consistently attract good clients, remain profitable and remain at the top of the list of desirable places for talented professionals and staff? One easy answer is that the key people in some firms are simply more talented than their counter parts in other firms.


It is often hard for firms to recognize and accept the reality of their own ability levels much less embrace the talent levels in other firms. Firms in this situation typically underestimate their competition, which places them at a disadvantage when marketing and recruiting. Firms that have talent advantages will almost always outperform firms with considerably less talent regardless of effort. Firms that have a solid structure and the right incentives will usually outperform firms with equal or even moderately better talent.


Some firms are very skilled at spotting and developing talent in their younger ranks, while others are only able to identify talent after it is fully developed, and usually after these people are working for the competition. To assist firms in getting more out of their talented people, and to help them create an environment that is attractive to talented people, I recommend the following approach:



  • Foster practice development plans for partners and junior partners
  • Provide marketing training for anyone who may benefit from it
  • Ensure the staffing mix on client accounts is advantageous to the client and that these benefits are communicated to the client
  • Communicate to everyone in the firm from partners to staff the significance of each client and why it is in their interest to foster these relationships
  • Ensure the firm's digital presence is alive and regularly communicating the substantive advantages of being a client
  • Ensure that firm's dress code and office space project a clean, fast and smart image


Attorney development

  • Create and implement an attorney evaluation system
  • Create and implement an attorney practice planning system
  • Ensure that the staffing mix on client accounts is also considerate of attorney developmental opportunities
  • Recognize that younger people struggle to realize their full potential when smothered by the insecurities of senior partners
  • Recognize that long term under performers have a detrimental impact on a firm's culture and potential


  • Never stop recruiting or be willing to replace mediocrity with potential
  • Develop a strategy for targeting specific types of lateral hires and be prepared to move quickly



  • Create a partners' compensation system with a material client net income (objective) component
  • Create and implement a set of origination sharing policies
  • Create and implement incentive compensation plans for non-partners

Long term incentives and planning

  • Create succession plans for the existing partners within 3 years of retirement
  • Create and implement partnership admission and progression criteria
  • Ensure that all top performers understand how they contribute to the current success of the firm
  • Communicate often with talented younger attorneys about their potential future opportunities
  • Ensure that there is a basic coherence to how the firm operates - a firm way



  • Ensure that the firm's technology is current. Get rid of or hide anything dated
  • Ensure that all attorneys and staff are able use and mine data from all of the firm's information systems
  • Chose an infrastructure and application set that supports the firm's need for superior information management



  • Enhance firm management reporting to track timekeeper and client profitability
  • Create a cost structure that reflects the reality of the present environment
  • Focus on profit margin more than hours and rates


How well a firm is able to implement and continually execute this structure will directly impact their success. Special firms are good at all of these things, average firms are good at some of these things, and poor firms do not even consider thinking on this level. As a starting point,I recommend that firms honestly assess their performance in each of these areas.