FisherBroyles replaces administrative equity decisions with a transparent formula
Partners at FisherBroyles are used to seeing looks of disbelief. A firm without a physical location? Without billable hours? How can this be? “I always say, ‘It’s exactly as described,’” says Bates Lovett, a civil litigator and FisherBroyles partner out of Savannah.
In 2014, Lovett joined as the firm’s 67th attorney. By the end of 2016, they hit 170.
Kevin Broyles and James Fisher started the firm about 15 years ago in Atlanta with a simple vision: less overhead and more transparency. Thirty to 40 percent of a traditional firm’s income goes to the attorneys, and the rest to operational costs. At FisherBroyles, the partners receive 82.5 percent of the money they bring in, with 17.5 percent going to items like marketing, accounting, malpractice insurance and paralegals. The attorneys work where they see fit—home, client offices, a leased office space—as long as they cover the cost. Last winter, a Chicago-based partner opted to work from a rented home in Tuscany.
“Things are working out as advertised,” says Ted Lavender, who joined last August.
Lavender and seven other medical malpractice attorneys came to the firm together, set up an office in Atlanta and hired support staff. “I had a full book of business at my old firm that I essentially picked up and brought with me, along with my team of people here,” he says. “So it was no more than changing office locations.”
They get the autonomy and flexibility of a solo firm plus the advantages of a large firm with a national footprint. “It’s the best of both worlds,” he says.
Lovett likewise chooses to work from an office location, which he rents in Savannah. “I’m about 12 times more efficient than I would be at home,” he says. He uses a paralegal from the Atlanta office and estimates that he’s currently working on 10 matters with other partners in the firm.
“For example, I had a client importing from China, and I used one of our New York lawyers to help facilitate that,” Lovett says. “I also had a California attorney, who doesn’t do litigation, work with a client that sells manufacturing equipment, and they sold a piece to a facility in Augusta that didn’t work as intended and they got sued, so they used me to handle it. ... Although I’m in Savannah working by myself, it’s not solo.”
Lovett came to FisherBroyles with his own clients, as all partners are effectively required to, but “it’s turned over almost 100 percent since then. I think I’ve got two files remaining. Most of my work comes from referrals from other attorneys.”
“There’s definitely work being transferred from this office to that office, and from this person to that person within the firm,” Lavender agrees. “It happens constantly.”
Never having to deal with back-office stuff or management is a major perk, Lovett explains. “In spring my son had baseball games at 4:45, so I could leave at 4:30 without explaining it to anyone. I’d then go home, and work for another hour or so,” he says. “Even a partner at a traditional firm has to explain to a certain extent.”
At FisherBroyles, Lovett says, there are also never discussions of equity or billable hours. “You bill more, you make more. No one is standing over you saying, ‘Why did you only bill 132 hours last month?’ There’s none of that. If ‘Attorney X’ in California bills 82 hours in September, that doesn’t affect me at all. There’s no hard feelings between me and any other attorneys.”
So why hasn’t the FisherBroyles model replaced the traditional one?
“I think it’s scary,” Lovett says. “There’s security in a big-firm mentality.”
He adds, “I think you’ll see more and more people come to this model because it’s eat-what-you-kill on steroids. I don’t know that you’ll ever be rid of the traditional firm model, but there may be fewer. This is certainly going to be an option.”