Our firm has been struggling for the past couple years. We have lost three key institutional clients, had partner defections to other law firm, and have suffered financially. We were a 40 attorney firm- six years later we are ten. We simply must improve profitability. What areas of our overhead should we attack first?
Many law firms waste considerable time trying to find ways to cut a pie that is too small up differently by implementation of new compensation systems or increasing the size of the pie by decreasing costs. While unnecessary expenses should be reduced - once they are reduced a repeated effort to slash costs proves fruitless as a strategy to increase the firm pie. The vast majority of law firm expenses are fixed or production-related. The percentage of costs that are discretionary is low, typically in the 20-30 percent range, and the number of dollars available for savings is small. The available dollars available for reduction disappear after a year or two of cost-cutting, leaving the firm with dealing with the effects of further cuts on production capacity. For example:
§ Should a firm eliminate staff positions if the result is additional administrative burden on lawyers and paralegals thereby reducing the revenue capacity of the firm.
§ Should the firm cut lawyers continuing legal education if improving an attorney's level of expertise is important to increasing revenue production.
§ Should a firm cut the marketing budget?
Once a firm has eliminated wasteful spending and made appropriate adjustments to the budget, further cost reductions often results in the firm reducing the possibility of turning the firm around, improving financial performance, and increasing the pie.
Increasing revenue, while maintaining the same expense structure, is the most powerful approach to improving firm profitability. Additional revenue goes directly to the bottom line and makes a significant impact on partner profits. If the firm is able to increase revenue by10% while maintaining the same cost structure, 100 percent of the additional revenue dollars will go to the partners.
So think revenue - not costs!
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC