Law firms have a lot of room to increase leverage, despite clients pushing back against the use of more junior lawyers, reports ALM Intelligence Analyst, Nicholas Bruch from The American Lawyer. Bruch notes that real-world pyramid structures will never be perfect, nor will work cascade down them smoothly. However, he adds it’s hard to escape the inference that there is a lot more room for increased delegation and leverage. In addition, there are many forces that align against increasing leverage, however, they can be overcome.
Nicholas Bruch notes that a starting point is that partners be clear on what increasing leverage requires. “It is not achieved, as some partners initially think, by adding associate hours on their matters, something they know to be difficult given the pushback they get from clients on ‘overstaffing.’ Rather it is about replacing partner hours with associate hours, keeping total hours close to constant, and bringing down total billings,” Bruch adds.
According to Bruch, it helps to also track and report out on leverage as closely as firms track partner hours; to get profitability measurement right (i.e. not just realization, but the combined effect of realization and leverage); and to have structured discussions about increasing leverage among partners (so all can see leverage can be increased without departing from the group identity as great lawyers). Curiously, raising partner billing rates also plays a role: some partners like to keep their rates low as they know not all they do is true partner work; raising partner rates leans against this, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).
Nicholas Bruch concludes that that the overarching message is that firms need to grow PPP to be competitive in the market for partner talent; increased leverage is a proven driver of PPP growth; today’s leverage levels are about half of what they could be; and firms have proven they can raise leverage despite the forces that align against doing so. The implication: leverage increases have a lot further to go.
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