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Best Practice Tips: Institutionalizing Your Law Practice

Asked and Answered

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

Q. I am the sole owner of a six-attorney estate planning practice in Phoenix, Arizona. The five associates have been with me from five to fifteen years. I just turned 55 and would like to retire when I am 65, either by selling my practice to another firm or to one or more of my associates. I would like to receive some remuneration for the sweat equity that I have invested (goodwill). I have tried over the years to set up my practice in a way that it is not “just me.” I changed the name of my firm to a trade name that does not include my name, arranged the lawyers’ names on our letterhead and website alphabetically, and eliminated designations such as principal and associate. I believe that I have made it difficult for clients and prospective clients to know who the boss is. I hope that this will make my firm more salable and appealing in the future. I would appreciate your comments.

A. I looked at your website and thought it was pretty easy to see that you are the firm owner. For example:

  • You are the only attorney who has given seminars and presentations
  • You are the only attorney who has articles and book chapters published.
  • You are the only attorney who has served as chair on bar association committees.
  • You are the only attorney certified by the Arizona Bar as an estate and trust attorney.
  • The bios of the other attorneys in the firm are weak.

I suspect that you are the rainmaker and despite any advertising that the firm does on your website, most of the firm’s business comes from your referral sources, past clients, and your reputation.

I believe you have to do more than what you have done to institutionalize your practice. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Motivate and if necessary push your associates to write and publish and get these works posted to the website.
  2. Motivate and if necessary push your associates to give presentations at bar and other professional association and community events.
  3. Motivate and if necessary push your associates to present firm seminars.
  4. Post your associates' works to your website and to their bios.
  5. Require your associates to become certified as estate and trust attorneys with the Arizona Bar.
  6. Consider revamping your compensation system to motivate and reinforce the above activities.
  7. Incorporate the above as “performance factors” in annual performance reviews.
  8. As time passes, if you find that your associates are unwilling to step up to the plate consider hiring different type of lawyers in the future.
  9. Do more advertising to increase the business that comes into the firm from other than your personal reputation.
  10. If you have not already, fully document your office procedures and automate your practice.

If you are able to accomplish many of the above suggestions you will be on your way to institutionalizing your practice.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, ( is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. 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 September 13, 2017 by Sara Anderson
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