Eliminating Sacred Cows and Busting Old Habits

In the late 1990’s, most law firms were steeped in tradition. Precedent was their path and the sacred cows of billing and management practices were the norm. However, there were a few forward looking firms that wanted, and saw the ultimate need, to do business differently. One of those firms was Summit Law Group. In 1997, a handful of Heller Ehrman attorneys were convinced, “that the standard law firm billing model was in desperate need of an overhaul…and were excited to build a different, more entrepreneurial kind of firm.” Summit founders believed in:

  • Offering a range of incentive and results based fees and flexible billing options instead of hourly rates
  • Their invoices included a Value Adjustment Line that offered clients the right to reduce their fees if they felt the value wasn’t there
  • A nonhierarchical, nonleverage-based structure in which all lawyers had at least small equity stake in the firm
  • Staffing matters leanly – refusing to pass along basic overhead costs and eliminating excessive costs

Today, Summit has tripled its size and cofounders say “they never would have imagined that 17 years later their firm would still be in business, while Heller Ehrman, which disbanded in November 2008 after a rash of partner defections, would be gone.” Summit lawyers are “convinced that the firm’s decision to eschew the standard law firm management model has also [besides it’s reputation for excellent legal work] been key to its staying power.”

Is your firm stuck in a rut? Eschewing many of the old habits and eliminating the sacred cows takes a huge leap of faith, but for those willing to jump, it may determine whether your firm still exists in 17 years or not.