Adding Value as the Originating Partner

If you’re part of a compensation system that rewards you for forming client relationships more so than for doing the actual work of the law, you may find yourself as the originating partner on a case that doesn’t fit your personal expertise. While you may not be qualified to handle the matter itself, there are important ways for you to add value as the person at the firm who knows that client best. 

Many attorneys make the mistake of disappearing into the woodwork by default, assuming they should step aside because the work doesn’t fall within the scope of their usual practice. Instead, how you split the work should be a conscious decision. Over time, this may lead you to turn the client over to another lawyer at the firm who has by then been in contact with them more day-to-day, but this shouldn’t be your starting point.

Taking yourself out of the equation off the bat is likely to hurt the relationship by making your client feel neglected. If you brought in the business, you should be available and attentive as the first line of defense when it comes to client concerns. You should be involved in the billing process, reviewing the pre-bill, articulating to the client the firm’s strategy, and encouraging the other lawyers doing the work to tell you of any issues as soon as they arise.

Even if you don’t know the specialty that your client currently requires, you understand the strategic issues. You’re perfectly capable of communicating these to the client and serving as an early warning system if they are unsure or dissatisfied in any way. You can be proactive in taking charge of communications internally and externally, keeping tabs on the firm’s responsiveness to client questions and anticipating problems before they come up.

As the originating partner, your role in managing the client relationship is hugely valuable to the success of the whole endeavor. And as many law firms are cutting back partner compensation in response to the COVID-19 crisis, it is crucial for a lawyer to maintain their status as the originating partner.

Should Law Firms Let Their Employees Go?

The present situation is bringing a few harsh realities to light. One is that the biggest threat to law firm survival is running out of cash. And the biggest expense that law firms and pretty much all professional service companies face is the cost of their people. It is therefore imperative that law firm leaders take a sober look at the direct and indirect costs of their workers.

There are businesses that should be reducing their workforce rapidly in the short run. These are companies that are suffering dramatic declines in the demand for their services and whose employees are not that highly skilled. For example, we recently spoke to the owner of a dog walking and pet sitting company. That company’s business model depends on people not being home in the middle of the day. Now that many are at home, approximately ninety percent of its clients have cancelled.

Dog walking will resume once people get back to physical workspaces outside of their homes. When that time comes, the supply of available dog walkers will probably be as high as it is now. Thus, letting people go now could make a lot of sense for dog walking businesses or for other service providers that are experiencing massive declines in demand and expecting a readily available supply of workers in the future (hotels, many restaurants, commercial parking companies, etc.).

A vast majority of law firms, however, are not in this situation. There are areas of law that are facing major reductions in demand for their services. Many areas of civil litigation have been put on hold. The number of divorce filings, for example, will probably decline sharply in the short term. But divorce is likely to spike once couples are no longer forced to live together in isolation. And when that happens, divorce firms will not want to train new hires who inevitably lack the skills and experience of those they’re replacing.

Most law firms are better off looking to alternatives like reducing hours for employees and independent contractors instead of laying them off or starting a furlough. We suggest that leadership review cash flow on a weekly basis, so if the financial and health impacts of COVID-19 last beyond eight or twelve weeks, the firm is ready to revisit its options. For now, it is generally a mistake for law firms to let people go.