I am the partner in charge of finance at our 12 attorney litigation boutique firm located in downtown Chicago. For the past two years our profits have been down and we are considering raising our rates but we are concerned that we may lose some of our corporate clients. We welcome your thoughts.
Raising fees is one approach you might consider. Clients are starting to push back more and more concerning legal fees. If you are at the high end of the rate scale I suggest that before charging off and raising rates you step back and conduct a process review by using an approach similar to the following:
- Pull a random representative list (by timekeeper and type of matter) of matters that have been concluded during the past six months. Say 10-20 matters.
- Calculate the effective hourly rates for each matter overall as well as by timekeeper class. (partner, associate, paralegal)
- Compare the calculated effective rate to your internal standard time billing rates as well as to external benchmarks. (Other firms from published survey data) How do they compare? What did it cost to staff the matter?
- Review the time detail for each of these matters and ask questions. You might want to flow chart and document the work flow. Is the firm working smart? Is time being dumped on these flat rate matters so that a timekeeper's hours look good on the production reports? Is the firm using the right mix of paralegals and attorneys to staff the work? Is there wasted or duplicative effort? Is technology being used? Can work steps be eliminated or reduced? Should the firm consider a "limited representation" unbundled option?
- Pilot test a few new approaches and measure the impact upon profitability.
Keep in mind that raising fees is one way of improving profitability. There are other ways as well. In today's competitive environment. Working smarter, efficiently, and more effective is another.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D., CMC