In a recent post, this blog covered the FisherBroyles law firm, which recently won acclaim for becoming one of the 200 highest revenue U.S. law firms (“AmLaw 200”). It has no offices, no associates, and no secretaries—what partner James Fisher calls, “the headwinds of profitability.”
As to “no associates”, since its inception 20 years ago, FisherBroyles has guaranteed that everyone it designates as a “lawyer” or “attorney” on a client company’s bill (whose work that bill describes as “legal services” or “legal advice”), is a fully-qualified attorney of at least 7 years experience — more typically 15 to 25 years experience practicing law.
This is not true of the traditional U.S. law firm.
Whose hourly billing business model relies on adding more recent law graduates to pump up total charges for the work of mature, accomplished attorneys.
James Fisher and Kevin Broyles made these points in a July 7, 2021 interview:
1. Relying solely on experienced lawyers makes for (1) cost efficiency and (2) high-quality lawyering.
“One of the core building blocks of our firm is to not train young associates and bill the client for training them, like traditional firms . . . That’s one of the things we know that our clients didn’t want, so we don’t do that. We expect to have partner-level people and not the same layered billing system that they are used to receiving from traditional law firms [partners’ charges for their high-value work layered on top of associates’ charges for their marginal value work].”
2. Mixing inexperienced lawyers among experienced ones (1) creates waste and (2) reduces quality of the team.
“[The FisherBroyles framework] is just going to be more efficient [in the delivery of] legal services because you’re not going to have the pyramid structure where you have a first-year or second-year [associate], and then a seventh- or eighth-year [associate] reviewing that, and then a partner that’s been practicing 25 years looking at it.
“You’re just going to have the partner who’s been practicing 25 years looking at it.”
3. Clients — and lawyers — accustomed to the traditional law firm pyramid with partners-over-associates, are surprised by FisherBroyles’ partners-only approach.
“Our compensation model allows partners to make a lot more than they would make in a traditional law firm, which leads to more service partners being available. You’re never worried about having enough support.
“One of the questions we often get is: well, if you don’t have associates, how do you get your work done?
“The work’s being done by someone who’s been practicing 15 to 25 years“.
The traditional law firm’s partner / associate pyramid structure imposes high charges for inexperienced lawyers (associates) as the cost of getting the experienced lawyers (partners) whose help the company really needs. This has nothing to do with any necessities of legal analysis or representation — and everything to do with the wasteful hourly billing business model most firms have chosen for themselves. In-house counsel haven’t changed this. That’s why CFOs and other businesspeople need to step in to remove the waste — and increase the quality — of the law firm services so vital to client companies’ risk management.