Best Practice: Partner compensation: Should management time count?

Asked and Answered By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC Q. I am one of the founding partners in a 25 attorney law firm in the northeast. We have three equity partners, six non-equity partners and sixteen associates working in the firm. We focus totally on litigation. Each of us three equity partners have equal ownership percentages and since day one (20 years) have divided firm profits equally along those lines (1/3, 1/3, 1/3). We each put in the same amount of effort and work - but since I am managing partner - my fee collections are much lower than those of the other two equity partners and I am concerned that they may feel that I am not carrying my weight since my fee collections are lower. How should this be handled in our compensation system? A. This is a common question that we hear often. It sounds like you are still allocating income in the same manner that you did when the firm first started. Often when a firm grows the partner compensation system needs to be re-examined when and if partner roles or contributions change. As the firm has grown I suspect that your time spent on management activities has grown as well. I, as well as many other legal management consultants, believe that firm management (running the business) is as important as generating client fees and should be so considered in partner compensation systems. We have numerous law firm clients where at least one or more of the equity partners "run the business" and do not provide billable client services at all. Management time should not be used as a non-billable time category (excuse) to simply "dump" time. Your partners have a right to expect results that improves the bottom line and the size of the pie for all. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Develop a budget for management time and have it approved by the partnership.
  • Create a job description for the management partner and have it approved by the partnership.
  • Recognize that administrivia (day-to-day office management) and management (higher level concerns) are not the same thing. Hire an office manager or administrator for administrivia - focus your time on the higher level management concerns.
  • Insure that you are using your management time wisely and obtaining results for the partnership.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA General ListServ, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at

Posted on January 6, 2010 by Chris Bonjean
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