We took advantage of the quiet December month to speak to some of our clients about their plans for 2018.
Many firms still feel the best way forward in today’s competitive environment is to expand headcount by ‘recruiting’ fee-sharers to their pool of legal experts. There are many reasons why law firms consider this option and why they invest in their infrastructure and processes to attract fee-sharers. It is important to note, however, that not all law firms are suitably equipped for fee-sharing arrangements. At a basic level, technology platforms need to permit secure remote access to the firm’s centralised portals/intranets. Other support functions prospective fee-sharing lawyers may look for are billing, research and remote secretarial support.
For those law firms that are suitable, benefits to the firm include freedom from employment inflexibility, increased revenues, lower and better use of overheads, a flexible workforce enabled by agile working practices, added expertise (sometimes in niche areas of law which the firm did not have before), and, inevitably, an increased client base and greater public exposure through the fee-sharer’s own networks and business development efforts.
The Lure for The Fee-Sharer
But what then are the benefits to the fee-sharer? Why step away from a consistent job with a law firm with a regular salary? There are several personal and professional benefits and we have discussed these in the past in our Infographic “A Brave New World of Fee-Sharing in Law Firms”, which is available here. Popular reasons why many of our candidates consider the fee-sharing route are because they want to have the flexibility of working their own hours from a remote location and because they want the ability to control the type of legal work they do. In short, they want to be their own boss yet stay within a structured and permanent environment.
The Need for a Client Following?
Most fee-sharing law firms expect fee-sharers to bring a portfolio of clients and not to give them clients from day one. It is common that once a fee-sharer has gained an established presence within a firm, the firm may give the fee-sharer additional leads. This should, however, be considered a bonus as it is an expectation that a fee-sharer must have his or her own source of leads. This is, of course, logical. If the law firm supplies marketing leads to grow the fee-sharer’s client base, then it would be better off merely employing the fee-sharer on a salaried basis rather than giving the fee-sharer over half of the revenues earned.
Whilst the size of the fee-sharer’s starting portfolio is important, we have recently seen some flexibility in this and law firms increasingly understand that for some practice areas, a fee earner may not be in a position to bring an established practice or book of clients to the firm. More law firms are, therefore, willing to engage fee-sharers with little or no following provided they can demonstrate that they have a clear business development plan in mind, including clearly thought out ways of building their own client base through networking, public speaking, blogging and business presentations, etc. It is up to the firm to satisfy itself, through its discussions with the fee-sharer, that the business development plan is realistic and feasible. Of course, if a fee-sharer is going to start off without ready work, some private funds are essential to cushion the fee-sharer until adequate fee income is achieved. Fee-sharing is, after all, non-salaried.
For the law firm, any initial share of fees must cover the overheads attributable to the fee-sharer (such as the cost of additional software licences for case management systems, secretarial support and the need for additional professional indemnity cover). Fee-splitting percentages will vary according to the services offered by the law firm and according to its business model, but as a common rule, the following equations are used by most:
- If the fee-sharer’s revenues are below £50k per year, then the fee split will generally be 50:50.
- If the fee-sharer’s revenues are between £50k and £150k per year, then the fee split will generally be 60:40 in favour of the fee-sharer.
- If the fee-sharer’s revenues are above £150k per year, then the fee split will generally be 70:30 in favour of the fee-sharer, but on occasion this may rise to 80:20.
Where firms refer work to fee-sharers or where fee-sharers cross-refer work to colleagues in their firm, other fee-splitting arrangements will apply.
If you are a solicitor with entrepreneurial drive and are considering becoming a fee-sharer or if you are already a fee-sharer looking to move, contact Lex Conscientia to find out how we can assist you and to request our free FAQs for Candidates Applying for Fee-Sharing Positions. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Recruitment Helplines: 07827 816330 (Matthew Sillett) or 07917 260299 (Sangeet Kaur).