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Best Practice Tips: Law Firm Client Level vs. Matter Level Client Origination Credit

Asked and Answered 

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

Q. I am the owner of an eight-attorney insurance defense law firm in the greater Chicago area. All of the other attorneys in the firm are associates. They are currently paid a salary plus a bonus for billable hours that exceed certain thresholds. I am in the process of establishing a non-equity partner tier and for this tier I want to set up a different compensation system with the focus on collected revenues rather than billable hours. I will continue to pay non-equity partners a salary with a bonus for collected working attorney fees. I will also pay responsible attorney fees for other timekeepers' work over the target threshold. I have given some thought to client origination of business, but since we have a small universe of insurance company clients, I'm not sure how this would play out. I would appreciate your thoughts.

A. I agree that at the non-equity partner level you should consider shifting the focus to collected revenues rather than billable hours. At the non-equity partner level, it should be your goal for them to become managers of work (responsible attorneys) rather than just workers (working attorneys). Therefore, I believe that your compensation system should compensate the non-equity partners for their individual work (working attorney collections) as well encourage them to delegate and push work out to associates and paralegals (responsible attorney collections).

Client origination is the other variable that some firms include in their compensation programs. The general idea is that attorneys should be finders, minders, and grinders. In an insurance defense firm, it will be difficult for associates and non-equity partners to originate new clients at the client level.

The firm’s existing clients were probably all originated by you and there are probably a limited number of new client opportunities. While I believe your focus for non-equity partners should be on working attorney and responsible attorney collections, I think that it is important that you at least track business or client origination so that you measure your non-equity partners' business development efforts and results. A better origination measure to track in your situation might be new matter origination rather than client origination. I suggest that you track, and not directly compensate, origination at the non-equity partner level. Track and reward via a salary increase or discretionary bonus instead.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, (www.olmsteadassoc.com) 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 jolmstead@olmsteadassoc.com.

Posted on February 6, 2019 by Rhys Saunders
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