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Best Practice: Law firm staffing/growth models

Asked and Answered

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

Q. I am the managing partner of a 16 attorney insurance defense firm in Chicago Southwest Suburbs. We have 4 partners and the balance of our attorneys are associates - many of which have been with us for several years. We are on a growth spree and need to hire more associates to handle client assignments. Associate hiring, mentoring, and training has always been a challenge for us and our clients are restricting us in the way we use associates on their files. I would appreciate your thoughts.

A. Attorney staffing/growth models include:

  1. Grow Your Own Associate Staffing
  2. Lateral Associate Staffing
  3. Contract - Staff Associate Staffing
  4. Lateral Partners (Equity or Non-Equity)
  5. Of Counsel (Various Approaches and Purposes)
  6. Mergers (Or Small Firm Acquisitions)
  7. Branching

I will address the pros and cons of each model/approach in upcoming postings. I will begin by addressing the first one.

The traditional staffing model for insurance defense firms has been Grow Your Own Associate Staffing.


  1. Large available supply of new lawyers.
  2. Lower salary than experienced lawyers.
  3. Better odds of integrating them into the firm's existing culture.


  1. Takes time training, mentoring, getting them ramped up.
  2. May take 2-3 years before they are profitable.
  3. Once they become profitable you may lose them to another firm.
  4. No business comes with them so you must have enough work to keep they busy.
  5. Clients may be unwilling to allow you to use them or dictate how you use them.
  6. Clients may be unwilling to allow them to train on their dime.
  7. Will have to bill them out at lower billing rates than lateral associates or lateral partners.

Click here for our article on hiring associate attorneys

Click here for our law firm management articles

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 August 27, 2014 by Chris Bonjean
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