Analyzing Costs Comprehensively
As part of their due diligence evaluation, firms need to assess carefully both the start-up/acquisition costs of the ancillary business and its ongoing operating costs within the law firm's structure. Unfortunately, many planners end this analysis prematurely, making their "go /no go" decision on the basis of weighing anticipated revenues against only the acquisition and historical operating costs of the ancillary business. To fully assess the profitability of a new venture, planners also need to take into account the overhead costs of operating the business within a law firm. In our experience, most planners underestimate these overhead costs.
Note: For simplicity, this article disregards tax considerations when it assumes that a firm wants its ancillary business to show a net operating profit.
Like law firms, the vast majority of ancillary businesses are service-oriented in nature. But calculating and comparing overhead costs can be tricky, since many ancillary businesses have -- and need -- a very different cost structure from that of the law firm.
Overhead Differences and Profitability
Typically a law firm tries to integrate an ancillary business into the firm's operations to achieve economies of scale, which may be real or imagined. When overhead cost structures of the two organizations differ greatly, however, such consolidation can result in red ink even if the ancillary business would be profitable on a stand-alone basis.
For example, a small independent lobbying practice can have a profit margin of up to 90%. This margin can shrink considerably if the lobbying operation is acquired by a law firm and then a portion of the law firm's overhead costs is allocated to it.
Following are some major components of a law firm's overhead structure that may differ significantly from those of an ancillary business in stand-alone mode:
Office Space -- For many ancillary businesses, an important key to profitability is that they require only low profile, inexpensive office space. To move them into a law firm's relatively sophisticated, expensive office space and then charge them accordingly, even at a fair internal charge rate, may dramatically alter their profitability.
Technology -- In law firms that seek to provide fully integrated and seamless services in a "one-firm" environment, an acquired business is often appended to the firm's technology platform. The firm's standard platform, however, may include overly sophisticated hardware or software that are not needed by the ancillary business. For example, an expertise-based ancillary business may have very little use for the firm's practice-oriented knowledge-management systems. The associated internal charges for these unnecessary services may materially impact the financial position of the ancillary business.
Administrative and Professional Costs - Many law firms have an administrative staff (secretaries, accounting staff, housekeeping, etc.) that is roughly the same size as the attorney staff. Ancillary businesses often require much smaller administrative support structures. Furthermore, the overhead structure of a law firm may include items of no relevance whatsoever to the ancillary business, such as depreciation, interest expenses, off-site storage, legal staff recruiting, legal services marketing and continuing legal education. Allocating unneeded overhead costs to an ancillary business is the equivalent of a business tax by the law firm.
Analyzing overhead costs such as the above will ensure that the law firm is well informed with respect to the real costs (and profits) associated with an ancillary business as the law firm will measure it in the future -- not just at the time of acquisition. Comparing Business Opportunities In many cases a firm's planners need to compare multiple investment opportunities. Realistic comparison requires consistency in the supporting analyses.
Therefore, at the onset of the evaluation process, be sure to set fair charge-back rates and overhead allocation policies for all ancillary businesses. Then use this information to develop pro forma financials for a three- to five-year planning horizon for each opportunity. It is only through reliable information, sound analyses, and strategic direction that the right decision can be reached.
How to Hire a Legal Recruiter for Your Law Firm: How Law Firms Recruit Attorneys Using Legal Recruiters
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.
With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.
Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.
Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.
One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.
One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.
Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.
In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.
Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.
In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.