I am a partner in a three-attorney law firm based in Orlando, Florida. I did a quick Google search this morning and stumbled upon your excellent blog posting – Associate Attorney Compensation. John did an excellent job answering the attorney’s question. We have an associate who I like very much; however, heading into her third year with the firm, she has gotten a bit comfortable with our laid-back style of management. Our situation is similar in many respects to the situation posted by the Chicago attorney.
I would like to find out more about whether coaching could help us improve our associate’s performance. Her billable hours are 800 per year and net profit after deducting her salary, benefits and assigned support staff from her collected fees is around $15,000, and this does not take into account other office overhead. Frankly, I am a bit hesitant to spend more money on her practice area as it is not really producing a profit for the partners in the firm. However, I am exploring ways that we can improve the situation for this part of the law firm. I look forward to chatting with one of you. Again, I enjoyed reading the article.
Whether coaching can help depends upon the specific situation and the cause or causes of the problem. It sounds like you might want to kick the can down the road and have someone deal with the oversight responsibility that you and your partner should be handling. Typical causes of poor associate performance include:
- Lack of or non-existent performance expectations in terms of hours worked per week, billable hours, fee collections, etc.
- Poor mentoring or supervision by you and your partner.
- Lack of work.
- Poor work ethic and not putting in appropriate number of work and billable hours.
- Poor time management habits.
- Poor timekeeping habits.
An outside coach could possibly be helpful if the problem is poor time management or poor timekeeping habits. You would want her on board with using an outside coach and might want even to consider having her pay half of the coaching fee. However, if the problem is one or a combination of the other three areas, an outside coach might be a waste of money. Maybe you and your partner need coaching on the top three areas. It is also possible that you simply have an associate that wants to work nine to five and may not be wrong person on the bus. Successful professional service providers whether they be attorneys, accountants, or management consultants don’t work forty hour or less weeks – they work fifty hour plus weeks.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC