Law Firm Practice Groups Fail to Excel

Newtown Square, PA, March 13, 2012 – Law firm practice groups and their leaders are falling short on a series of performance measures according to a new survey by law firm consultancy, Altman Weil, Inc.  The Altman Weil Practice Group Performance Survey rated overall performance of practice groups and their leaders, and scored group capabilities for planning, plan implementation, new business development and cross-selling.

Managing partners surveyed report that only 49% of their practice groups and 52% of group leaders are very good or excellent in overall performance — leaving about half of all groups and leaders with fair or poor performance ratings. The top three factors managing partners rated as important in measuring practice group success are: acquisition of new business, revenue growth and profitability. 

“The failure of practice groups to excel is a missed opportunity for otherwise highly-performing firms,“ says Altman Weil principal Tom Clay.  “Practice group leaders are given responsibility for the major business units of law firms, but in many firms they are not given the necessary tools and resources – or held accountable for their performance.” 

The survey found that an investment of 250 hours or more significantly improved overall practice group and group leader performance scores.  However, practice group leaders spend more than 250 hours per year – the top time allocation in the survey – in only 14% of law firms.

Sixty-three percent of law firms said they have a formal practice group planning process, but planning quality is inconsistent and many firms fall short on plan execution.  On average, on a scale of 0 to 10, managing partners rate the effectiveness of practice group planning at 6.0 and the effectiveness of plan implementation at a meager 5.6. 

“Formal planning is also a performance accelerator,” says Clay.  “But ultimately each group needs to make a focused and achievable plan to benefit from the process.”

Only 42% of practice groups are very good or excellent in generating new business, and 41% of groups are very good or excellent at cross-selling other firm practices, according to the survey.  The single greatest accelerator of performance in these areas is training. 

In firms where practice group leader training is required, business development and cross-selling performance jumps about 15 percentage points above the average score. There is a 20 point differential between firms with mandatory training and those that offer no training to group leaders. 

The survey found that only 13% of law firms require mandatory leadership training for their practice group leaders.  That number rose to one third in firms with 500 or more lawyers. 

The highest performance scores in the survey were reserved for non-lawyer professionals who support law firm practice groups in a variety of roles including litigation support, marketing and business development, technology, financial analysis and administration.  Each category of these professionals was rated between 7.4 and 8.1 in effectiveness on a 0 to 10 scale.

About the Survey
The Altman Weil Practice Group Performance Survey polled Managing Partners at 855 law firms with 50 or more lawyers in the US and Canada.  Completed surveys were received from 81 law firms.  Conducted in fall 2011, the survey is being widely released for the first time today.

A commentary on the survey by Altman Weil’s Tom Clay was featured in the March 2012 issue of The American Lawyer (www.altmanweil.com/PGCommentary). 

Download the full survey at: www.altmanweil.com/PGPerformanceSurvey.

About Altman Weil
Founded in 1970, Altman Weil, Inc. is dedicated exclusively to the legal profession.  It provides management consulting services to law firms, law departments and legal vendors worldwide.   The firm is independently owned by its professional consultants, who have backgrounds in law, industry, finance, marketing, administration and government.   More information on Altman Weil can be found at www.altmanweil.com.

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Contact Information

Thomas S. Clay
Altman Weil, Inc.
tsclay@altmanweil.com

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