The Vista Team regularly receives really great questions from law firms across the country.
Chances are, you may have some of the same questions, so we answer them here.

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Amanda standing in front of open book

I think a good standard is to have 33% or more of your cases come from client referrals. If you are below that number, I would say you could do a lot better on client service, client communication, and asking for referrals. I have seen firms get way above this number, but this is a good target.

For firms that get most of their business from attorney referrals, I would separate those from client referrals for purposes of this analysis. Same target numbers, same prescription for fixing it if your numbers are low.

Your client referral percentage and number are some of the best indicators of how happy people are with your firm. Pay attention to this number!

I would recommend visiting with that attorney and having a candid conversation with them about their attitude. Correcting someone’s attitude is always much trickier than correcting someone’s performance. Talking about performance is often objective and feels less personal. Talking about someone’s attitude feels very personal. When you give them feedback, lead with common objective. “We want to build the best team possible…”, “we want to deliver the best client service possible…” and so forth. Discuss specific behaviors that are contrary to the firm’s core values and how they affect the team. Finally, come up with a timeframe and methodology of how you are going to measure improvement.

You may give them 30, 60, 90 days to get it right with periodic check-in. You may measure improvement by talking to those around them who have been affected by their attitude, or through client surveys. The point is to start the dialogue and give them a chance to fix it. However, if they can’t fix it, you need to let them go. They are damaging your culture and holding back your firm even though they are bringing in a lot of fees. They are going against the grain, and because they do their job well, they have influence around others at the office. This causes other people to believe that they, too, can go in their own direction, and this makes it tough to build a consistent culture. We have seen it time and time again that when they are gone, it will be like a weight was lifted, and other people will step up and cover the work that was being done by them.

Implementing a new procedure is tricky. We all go to conferences, see a video, listen to a DVD, or get a great idea from talking to someone and we want to implement it at our firm immediately.

We immediately communicate to our team that we want to do A, B, and C by tomorrow and send everyone into a frenzy. We may make some ground initially, but over time, it loses steam. If you are trying to implement a new procedure, we find that asking these 7 questions helps the procedure stick:

  1. What is the purpose of the procedure?
  2. What are the exact steps of the procedure?
  3. Who is responsible for enforcing this procedure?
  4. How and how often will they monitor and enforce this procedure?
  5. What are the consequences of not following this procedure?
  6. When will this procedure start?
  7. How will this procedure be communicated to the team and how will the team be trained on this procedure?

At Vista Consulting, we get asked this question all the time. “How many cases should each attorney handle?” The answer is “it depends….” Not to be evasive, but we have seen many firms have success with many different formulas. We have seen firms where attorneys carry 20-30 cases, and firms where they carry 200-300 cases. Vastly different models, but both can be successful. When firms ask us to analyze their case counts per attorney and support personnel, we look at several things. We look at current client satisfaction through surveys and the percentage of business that comes from non-marketing sources. Low client survey scores and a low percentage of files coming from non-marketing sources are indicators that your team may have too many files on their plate. We also look at average fees, gross revenue per attorney, and gross revenue per support personnel. Low numbers here can also indicate that people are overwhelmed and have too many files. We also like to analyze what we call Client Communication Cycles and File Review Cycles. How often are clients being communicated with and how often are files being touched? As these cycles increase (taking longer for these things to happen), clients get angry, time on desk goes up, referrals go down, and lots of other bad things tend to happen. Case types also matter. Attorneys can handle more cases for certain case types. Premise liability cases can be trickier, so case counts are probably lower. Social Security case counts are typically higher and that is ok. The case type that the attorney is handling will make a difference in how many they can handle. Finally, all attorneys are not created equal. Some can simply handle more files than others, and handle them well. So the answer is, you have to find out what is the right number for your firm, your attorneys, and the case types that you are handling, but you should consider the above factors when making that determination.