Message From the Executive Committee
I would like to begin this message with a thank you to our clients. The past two years have been exceedingly challenging given the state of the economy. In spite of this fact, you have remained loyal. Why is that? Could it be that in the face of these devastating economic challenges, our firm has continued to provide you with the highest level of service possible at an affordable price? Could it be that we have been partners for a long time and are weathering this storm together? Could it be that our firm's stability has attracted the kind of person who is willing to roll up his or her shirt sleeves and weather the storm when others have not? Or could it simply be that our unflinching commitment to be the best defense litigation firm in the areas we serve has given you a level of comfort no matter how tough the times may be? I do not know why you have remained loyal to us, but I do know two things: we are humbled by your commitment, and we do not take this for granted.
As I believe most of you know, in addition to being a member of our Executive Committee, I also serve as our firm's Chief Operating Officer. In a nutshell, this means that in some way I am responsible for the costs of maintaining our business. Our firm is no different than any other business. If we are not constantly vigilant about our costs in the same way that you are, we will not be able to provide you with affordable services. Fortunately for our firm, we have known this for many years. Consequently, when the economy began its nosedive two years ago, we already had in place a culture of fiscal conservatism. I regularly attend large law firm management conferences. At these conferences, I am often asked how we are able to manage such a large law firm when the rates that we charge are often below or at times significantly lower than our competition. My response has always been that an understanding of what our clients want and can afford in combination with a no-nonsense approach to the costs associated with providing our clients what they need has enabled us to succeed. Never before has this pragmatic philosophy been more important to the survival of our firm than in the past two years.
Let me give you a few examples. As we all know, technology can be and is expensive. It is also designed to have a short lifespan. For as long as I can recall, the industry standard for the lifespan of a desktop computer was three years. Consequently, typical leases for desktop computers were three years. Well before 2008, our firm developed a practice of extending the life of a desktop computer to three and a half years. Granted, there was a little sacrifice in speed and flexibility, but this sacrifice had no meaningful adverse impact on the ability of our attorneys to provide timely service to our clients.
The billing and accounting system we currently have in place has been in place for almost 20 years. Believe it or not, it is not a web-based system. You may ask yourself how is this possible? It is possible in part because we have been able to tailor it to suit our constantly changing needs, and, frankly, because we have not been satisfied that there was a replacement system on the market that was stable enough and sophisticated to do all that we needed to insure that our clients' billing needs were met.
For those of you who have visited any of our offices, you have seen that we have modest surroundings. We have never gone the route of mahogany and marble.
This year we have negotiated contracts with the companies that perform our facilities management services and provide our office supplies. We have been able to leverage our size to achieve significant savings. In addition to negotiating favorable contracts, we have significantly improved the ratio of support staff to attorney in our firm through attrition over the past three years. We are currently in the midst of deciding whether to move from our current location in Philadelphia or stay where we are. The cost associated with such a decision will be the paramount factor in our ultimate decision.
In addition to the obvious benefit to our clients of being able to provide affordable services, there are the less obvious benefits. Our firm's stability is recognized in the legal defense community. Over the past 20 years, we have been able to acquire some gifted and talented attorneys who have come from failed businesses. We have been able to do this because we have managed our business responsibly. The addition of this talent has given you a tremendous advantage.
However, in spite of our best efforts, there do come times in our business, like all other businesses, when expenses must be incurred. Do you remember that billing and account system I talked about earlier? Well, the time has come! It must be replaced. The system that currently operates our computer network must also be replaced.
We have tried as hard as we possibly could to keep our rates down. Last year, in many instances, we did not press for rate increases because we realized how difficult it was for our clients to meet their obligations. However, this year we have been compelled to seek rate increases. Candidly, this is not something we take lightly. However, if we would not be able to secure modest increases in our rates, we would not be able to supply you with the talent pool you rightfully expect.
I wanted to share with you a few examples of our firm's commitment to be fiscally conservative. We have struggled over the past few years like all businesses. I think we have been able to manage the storm a little better than others because we have a culture of cost consciousness. However, we also realize that there is a constant need to invest in people and technology in order to be in a position of strength. It is that strength which you count on. Thank you for riding out this storm with us.
*Pete Miller can be reached at (215) 575-2610 or email@example.com.
Defense Digest, Vol. 16, No. 3, September 2010