I recently interviewed Kevin E. Broyles. Kevin has a diverse legal experience in the areas of corporate technology, commercial contracts, strategic acquisitions, as well as health and financial privacy, litigation and arbitration. He is also the Co-founder and Managing Partner of FisherBroyles LLP, a cloud-based full-service law firm which has eliminated billing quotas and does not employ inexperienced attorneys.
Q: Our readers would be keen to know about your journey from choosing law as a profession to starting up FisherBroyles. Could you please tell us about that?
It was indeed a journey. I decided to pursue law after the 8th grade because I was enamoured with L.A. Law and other legal movies and television shows at that time. But, I became disillusioned with litigation when in a couple of cases judges clearly ignored the law because they felt emotionally attached to the other side’s client. At the same time, I was getting more and more interested in technology. So I made a switch to a corporate and technology attorney right before the technology downturn occurred in 2001 and 2002. Survival at that point led to the creation of FisherBroyles.
Q: Tell us about your role at FisherBroyles
I co-manage FisherBroyles with James (James M. Fisher II). We have a great working relationship. Nothing harms or destroys a business like a lack of shared vision. From the beginning, we have seen all the major issues in the same manner. We rarely have any major disagreements. Many times smaller decisions are made based on availability and the larger ones by collaboration. We share responsibility for managing and recruiting and try to take advantage of our respective strengths in handling specific matters.
Q: What are the main shortcomings in the traditional law firm business model? How does FisherBroyles’ model overcome those shortcomings?
In the traditional law firm business model there are a plethora of issues. The traditional structure creates inherent conflicts among partners and between partners and clients. The foundations of these conflicts are discretionary compensation and discretionary performance assessment.
Discretionary compensation pits partner against a partner as the pie is divided each year and most partners get less than they would settle for. It is human nature to blame someone else for the shortcoming and in the case of the traditional model, that is often true. Expensive overheads, which many partners do not require, make the pie even smaller. Threats and leverage from the more profitable partners make the process adversarial within the partnership.
Discretionary performance assessment includes billable quotas and profitability, which can largely be out of the partners’ control. The firm keeps making attorneys raise their rates to feed the overheads model, making it harder to be profitable. Young attorneys have to be trained, which leads to time being written off or uncollectible. And the billable quotas create tension between meeting an arbitrary number and efficiently representing clients.
FisherBroyles corrects these problems in several ways. Three of the most important features of our model are non-discretionary, formula-based compensation system, the elimination of billable quotas, and the empowerment of partners to control their service to clients. We reward partners on a non-discretionary basis for client generation, work performed, management of clients, and recruiting new partners. This results in a culture where partners are incentivised to work collaboratively, focus on client satisfaction, and seek solutions rather than hours to bill. Our partners don’t hoard work or worry about meeting any billable quotas. We have aligned the interests of the firm and all partners. The partners are empowered to grow their own and the collective pie through measurable successes.
Q: How do you ensure consistent quality of legal services throughout the firm?
In addition to the ways that traditional firms ensure quality among partners who may be working independently on matters, we have an added benefit. Because our firm is more collaborative among partners, it is easier for partners to see what other partners are doing. Also, as there are no associates, there are more instances where multiple partners are working for a client. Unlike young associates, experienced partners are not hesitant about discussing concerns with the client or bringing issues to the management. Equally important, we require our partners to have sophisticated experience at an Am Law 200 firm or a large corporation or a government entity. Someone who has performed for more than seven years in such an environment is less likely to have performance issues.
Q: Could you please tell us about the business development and marketing initiatives of FisherBroyles?
Like politics, all business development is local. Too many traditional firms throw money at unproductive business development ideas. We firmly believe that clients hire lawyers, not law firms. Once you are in an established big firm — which FisherBroyles now is with 200 partners across the United States – the decision comes down to the particular lawyer’s expertise. We determined early on that without a connection, we could never land a Fortune 500 client. Advertisements in magazines and speeches in seminars don’t work unless you are one of only a handful of experts in a particular field. We focus on growing our practice areas and growing our network of connections through partner acquisition. Then, they bring the clients through personal relationships. James and I focus on building the brand of FisherBroyles through speaking, writing and interviews, like this one.
Q: Why should a potential client choose FisherBroyles over other law firms?
There are three very important reasons. First, we provide seasoned attorneys who are performing the work in a model that reduces conflicts of interest. We aren’t charging the clients to train rookie lawyers. A client never has to worry about someone touching their matter that hasn’t handled that kind of a matter hundreds of times before. Nor do they have to worry about an attorney pounding the file to meet an arbitrary billing quota.
Second, the attorneys are empowered to provide the most efficient and logical service for each matter. There is no one-size fits all approach to our fee structure or services. Our partners always look for the right solution for the client without institutional restraints to frustrate the client.
Third, as our overheads are so low, our rates will always beat Am Law 200 firms of a similar size. It is almost unfair. We don’t have to structure our rates to feed real estate overhead, associate overhead, marketing overhead, or retirement overhead paid to attorneys who are forced out when they hit 65. Not only do we not have young associates, we don’t force any of our older attorneys to retire early.
Q: What are the future plans of FisherBroyles?
Conquer the world. There really is no natural barrier to our growth. As technology continues to evolve, our value proposition to clients becomes even stronger and our operations become more efficient. Time is our ally when it comes to competing with traditional law firms. We are looking forward to expanding into Europe and Asia. This model is not just for the United States. We are always looking for seasoned attorneys in a variety of commercial practice areas. The next step, which we have already started to see, is the movement of groups of attorneys out of traditional law firms into FisherBroyles. Sometime in the next two years, if our growth remains steady, we will enter the Am Law 200. At that point, we expect a major shift in the legal marketplace as even more attorneys figure out that there are no good reasons to continue to practice in an outdated, traditional model.