This is the next post in my series on how law firms can cut waste from their budget. My last article focused on why attorneys should avoid pay-per-click management services. The reasons for avoiding such services is simple – they charge a lot of money for something that takes very, very, very, very (very) little time. In this article I’m going to look at another way in which law firms are quite good at wasting ‘da cash – hiring people when there’s no need to do so.

There’s a commonly held misperception when it comes to running a business  – and, yes, your law firm is a business. This misperception is that “being the boss” means that one doesn’t do anything but play golf, that employees do all the work, and that working for one’s self requires the owner to do nothing but to sit on a pile of money like this guy:

Sitting on money

This misperception leads to what I’ve seen termed “the absentee owner syndrome.” This condition includes symptoms of thinking they are going to hire employees to do all their work while said owner seldom comes to work. The end result, for the absentee owner, of this condition is a physical appearance which looks like this:

Man with empty pockets

You may know attorneys suffering from this syndrome. If you know attorneys that have the attitude of “why do it myself when I can pay someone to do the work” then you can expect them to catch this syndrome.

When I talk about the absentee owner syndrome I’m speaking about a specific type of attorney. First, it’s the person who does all of the following:

  • Hiring an associate to handle the cases, perform the consultations, and essentially run the office
  • Outsourcing all financial and book keeping functions and performing no financial review other than looking at the bank balance
  • Outsourcing many tasks to vendors when they can be more cheaply and easily performed in-house

Second, in addition to each of the above, the absentee owner is not staying involved in the firm’s day-to-day operations; they’re not holding weekly staff meetings, they’re not auditing the work of others, and they’re otherwise not staying informed as to what’s going on. In other words, they’re letting the inmates run the asylum.

My series on starting a new law firm included a discussion of why an attorneys are their own most valuable asset. The same is true for existing firms. Outsourcing all of your work results in labor and service expenses which are not necessary due to the fact that you could be doing work yourself – it’s that simple. The other thing is that absentee law firm owners fail to remember a simple fact – you can’t get something for nothing.

Absentee law firm owners are essentially hoping to get something for nothing. I say this because, when you really stop to think about it, what they want to do is write a check each month (for things such as marketing, employees, etc.) and get a larger check at the end of the month with having done no work other than writing the initial check. The sad truth is that there is nothing in life that works that way – “work” is, well…………., work! That’s why people get paid for it.

Want to cut waste from your law firm’s budget? Then leverage yourself as an asset and don’t pay people to perform tasks just so you can take excess time off. I understand that this post may seem a little harsh. Why am I writing about this topic? Because we’ve received many phone calls from attorneys who fall into this description; it’s more common than you think.

Why do you feel that so many attorneys are absentee from their office? Please chime in through the comment form below.