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- Developing a Common Understanding -

A Partner Survey is intended to elicit the frank and honest opinions of firm members on a wide range of strategic and operational issues. A Partner Survey is a comprehensive, in-depth survey of the firm’s partners and, if desired, senior associates and administrative managers. The survey is carried out by means of a detailed written questionnaire that normally takes each partner between 60 – 90 minutes to complete.

For the Partner Survey to be credible, a high percentage of partners must complete it (typically, 85-90% do), and they must do so with complete honesty and candor. To this end, the Partner Survey is administered on a strictly anonymous basis, with no original surveys ever seen by anyone in the firm. All completed surveys are returned directly to Coburn Consulting, which tabulates the results and then destroys the original questionnaires.

No two Partner Surveys are alike. Each is tailored to the unique issues and needs of each firm.  During the survey design phase, Coburn Consulting conducts both telephone and in-person interviews with a representative sample of partners (and, if desired, senior associates and key management staff) to ensure that the issues and topics covered by the survey are relevant and pertinent to the firm in question.

Why Do a Partner Survey
Law firms use the Partner Survey for a variety of purposes, including:

Helping to identify key firm-wide issues and to develop the agenda for a partnership retreatDiagnosing key issues and opportunities that will form the foundation of a strategic planning program
Gauging the degree of partnership interest in the idea of growing through merger or acquisition
Providing newly-elected managing partners with a comprehensive assessment of key issues to help form the framework of the new leadership agenda

The results of the Partner Survey are presented quantitatively in charts and graphs which allows for an objective analysis of partner views. This methodology enables the firm’s leadership to objectively measure the degree of consensus that exists within the partnership (and within the entire firm if others are invited to participate) on any given issue. As such, the Partner Survey is the single best way of not only measuring – but also of building – consensus within the partnership. On numerous occasions, the strong level of consensus captured by the Partner Survey has served as an important building block for the firm’s future planning and decision-making.

Sample Areas of Inquiry
Listed below are a variety of issues and opportunities on both internal and external topics that could be explored through a partner survey:

What “vision” do our partners have for the firm over the next 3-5 years? How much ambition do partners have to change the firm’s direction or take it to a higher level?

Is the firm the right size? How strongly do partners feel about the various options for growth? Should the firm pursue geographic expansion? Should we diversify? Or should we focus ourselves more narrowly? What are partner sentiments on the issue of merger or acquisition?

How satisfied are we with the firm’s profitability? What factors have the greatest impact on profitability, both positively and negatively? How much harder / smarter are we willing to work?

Does the firm have enough depth in critical areas? Is the breadth of our offerings sufficient? Can we offer both breadth and depth and, if not, which is more important? Are there particular industry segments or legal specialties we should pursue?

How are we viewed in the marketplace? What are we known for? What is our perceived position in the marketplace? Who are our major competitors? What tier do we compete in? Is this were we want to be? How will we maintain our place in this market?

How satisfied are our clients? Do we know the extent of their satisfaction? What can we do to enhance client satisfaction?

How effectively is our firm led and managed? How responsive is our leadership to the needs of the members? Is the leadership looking toward the future? Is the current level of communication appropriate? Going forward, do we want more or less direction from the firm’s leadership?

Do our practice groups work well? How effectively are they led and managed? Are practice groups supporting and developing associates? To what extent should practice groups and their leaders be accountable for goals and performance? How should we reward practice group leaders, especially those who are doing a great job?

How is morale within the firm? Is it trending up or down? How do we define our ideal culture – and how does our current culture measure up?  How is the level of collaboration across practices? To what extent are we individual practitioners vs. members of a cohesive firm? Where do we want to be on the spectrum of individualistic vs. collaborative behavior? 

To what extent are attorneys satisfied with their compensation? If we are not satisfied, does the dissatisfaction stem from the size of the pie or from the individual’s own slice of it? Are the standards for compensations and promotion clear and fairly administered?

Is enough attention paid to long range planning and strategy development?  If not, how should we build planning into our annual management agenda?

How well is the firm doing in attracting and retaining attorneys? What do we need to do to ensure that good laterals from the better firms consider our firm when making a move?

What specific marketing and business development activities should we be engaged in to enhance firm revenue? Is the marketing and business development function adequately led and managed? Are we rewarding business development sufficiently? 

How effective are the administrative functions at the firm? Is the support staff managed well? Are our billing and collection processes efficient? 

How adequate is our technology? Are we using technology for greater efficiency? Is our use of technology benefiting our clients?

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