The Bar News

Best Practice: Model for sustaining a law practice: Managing the S-Curve

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC Q. In a recent firm meeting the question was raised as to whether law firms hit a wall when they run up against new competitors, new technologies, new business models, or when their talent peaks. Is there a general model of sustaining a law firm? A. The mechanics of managing a law firm are too complex to address in this forum. It would be better to discuss what to tell you what to look for that tells you, well in advance of a fee revenue plateau, that your practice needs some work. Once you know where your practice is getting wobbly, then you will have a clearer idea of how to fix the mechanics. We tell our clients that often a law firm is on an  "S-Curve" in which slow and steady growth often occurs at the start of the law practice, followed by gaining momentum and rapid growth, then tapering off as practice areas get saturated or competitors enter the practice areas in which the firm is engaged. Watch these components for advance warning: 1. Competition - any practice area attractive to you will also attract other law firms, so monitor new entrants starting to chip away at your clients. 2. Capabilities - you created or bought some new technology, skills or other assets to start your firm/growth, but the distinctiveness of these eventually wears off and they are likely to be available to competitors once their value is clear. 3. Talent - you had it when you started your firm, but attorneys and staff have become "free agents" and increasingly move between law firms more frequently and you may lose a key asset. There may be other components unique to your practice and market. The point is that there is more than meets the eye in a simple growth curve. Figure out exactly what assets and activities are part of your particular growth and watch each one, as well as how each component affects the others (e.g., a departure of talent from your firm to a competing law firm, along with knowledge of specific major case or a key technology is a triple blow.) Click here for our blog on strategy Click here for articles on other topics 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 listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at
Posted on June 29, 2011 by Chris Bonjean
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