Law Firm Articles

Twelve Ways to Improve Your Firm in 2016

Altman Weil consultants offer their insights for law firms.


1. Develop a five-year outlook for the firm and set goals to achieve that vision. Planning year to year is not sufficient. –Ward Bower

2. At a partner meeting in the first quarter, have your practice group leaders publicly commit to two things – and only two things – that their groups will accomplish in the next nine months. At a year-end meeting, ask the leaders to deliver brief progress reports and take questions. This simple process requires prioritization, execution, accountability and interaction – all essential elements for effective planning and implementation firmwide. –Eric Seeger

3. Identify a short list of key clients and create or update customized client service plans for each. –Alan Olson

4. Develop formal succession plans for the firm, each Practice Group, and each office, as well as for key clients. –Ward Bower


5. Focus on profitability (rather than revenue) at the firm and practice levels, and develop an understanding of your major profit drivers. –Alan Olson

6. Take advantage of the data stored in your time and billing system and the many data analytics tools available to understand the cost drivers of one of your strong practices.  Use that data to make well-informed and competitively priced pitches for new work. —Rees Morrison


7. Pricing pressure and variable demand make it critical that law firms carefully manage headcount in 2016, as overcapacity remains a serious threat.  Law firms must show a greater willingness to accept flexible staffing arrangements and invest in productivity increases through more competent use of technology tools. —Jim Cotterman

8. Review work volume and demand trends in core practice areas and make a 2016 plan to address lawyer staffing gaps, growth opportunities or over-staffing to better match capacity with demand. –Alan Olson

9. Establish partnership criteria for economic performance that recognize 2016 market competitiveness.  Review current partner performance in light of the standards and consider cutting those who are not pulling their weight economically, relying on other partners to generate work for them, or blocking opportunities for younger lawyers. –Ward Bower


10. Focus on the basic blocking and tackling of managing your law firm as a business. In too many firms the demands of big rainmakers and big personalities take precedence over sound business principles and even above client needs.  In firms truly governed by business principles, clients and client satisfaction will be paramount. —Jim Wilber

11. One of the major causes of business failure is an inattention to market-driven signals. For law firms in 2016, the most important signals deal with what clients want, what traditional competitors are doing, and what new types of competitors are vying for market share. Law firms must find ways to systematically increase rank-and-file partners’ awareness of issues that are changing the marketplace.  Managing partners and practice group leaders can’t be the only ones with their ears to the ground. –Tom Clay

12. Empower your firm’s lawyer leaders and senior administrators to run their areas without interference and give them the authority needed to do so.  Look to the corporate world where senior executives work closely together as true teams, all pulling in the same direction. —Jim Wilber