Compensation matters

From day one of their practice lawyers are inducted into the world of the billable hour.  Efficient tracking and billing of time is vital to a lawyer’s success. 

Time is money. 

So it is not surprising that when I meet with lawyer friends for lunch and coffee one of the complaints I most often hear is: why would I bother to do X if I’m not compensated for it.  X can stand for lead the practice group, bring in business for other members of the firm, dedicate time to marketing activities, or help manage the firm.

And they have a point. 

Sure there are intrinsic rewards to be garnered including the lawyer’s own long term professional goals and interests, and the long term benefit and prosperity of the firm, but let’s face it, when the compensation committee comes to call, it can be a real slap in the face when all the hard work and effort goes unrewarded.

I know one great business developer who threw up his hands and said forget it!  If all you want is billing, that’s all you will get. 

This week Beverly Cramp of The Lawyers Weekly has published an informative article following up on the discussion Simon Taylor and I had in this blog earlier this year about an innovative new compensation system being introduced by a local Vancouver law firm.  Taylor worked with the firm extensively on the system and shared with me some of the ideas behind the approach.

Here’s a quote from Cramp’s article:

But the more time partners spend building relationships, the less time they have for doing their own billable work and with a compensation system overemphasizing the partner’s billable hour record, their income can fall. This is a financial disincentive to delegating work and spending time with new clients. So even though one of the key drivers of profitability is the ability to effectively delegate, the partnership is collectively shooting itself in the foot.  This calls for significant changes in partnership behaviour. But this stuff isn’t learned at law school. Entire careers are built on billable hours. Simon Taylor

I encourage you to take a moment to read the article in full.  And if you want to make changes to your firm’s compensation here’s what can help:

  • Align the compensation system with the overall firm strategy
  • Develop a long term change management plan, with strategies developed in advance for overcoming some of the road blocks and objections you know will arise 
  • Support your plan with clear and frequent communication and dialogue from the leadership with members of the firm
  • Set your lawyers up for success. If you are asking busy professionals to make a significant change to their practice make sure you are giving the support to make that change.  Invest in the tools, technology, and professional assistance that they will need to succeed.

The crucial point is to not allow the fear of change (or the turmoil cause by change) to prevent your firm from taking measures to strategically manage the practice.


About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.