Building a better case

One year after its Makeover, an Oregon law firm is going strong.

By Brian O'Reilly, FSB Magazine

(FSB Magazine) -- The Ambrose Law group was already among the biggest real estate law firms in Portland, Ore., when our consultants parachuted in last year. Founder David Ambrose wanted to revamp the firm's pricing and IT systems. He also wanted more clients to seek Ambrose's help in structuring complex business deals. One year later David reports that the Makeover helped Ambrose get closer to its goals.

The biggest success, he says, has been the firm's move away from traditional hourly billing. "Flat-fee billing is better for clients and better for us," he says. "Clients value the certainty of knowing up-front what their legal work will cost.

For common items like document preparation and filings, there's been very little resistance to the idea." The firm still bills by the hour for most of its complex litigation work. "It's hard to predict how much time a big case will take," says Ambrose.

But the firm has started charging flat fees for tasks such as taking depositions and filing complaints. Revenues at the firm were up 85 percent over the first eight months of this year vs. 2005, according to Ambrose COO Jan Alexander. Staff turnover allowed Ambrose to hire more productive attorneys. But Alexander says that flat-fee pricing deserves a lot of the credit.

Ambrose's IT overhaul took about seven months longer than planned but has already produced results. Thanks to new servers, software and high-speed cellular connections, the firm's attorneys can now work almost anywhere. And that snazzy technology has proved to be a powerful recruiting tool. "Our new attorneys never had that capability at other firms," says David. "And now they say they'd never go back to being without it."

Ambrose is slowly redefining itself as a soup-to-nuts consultancy. "We are advising clients on strategy and organizational structure, not just on legal issues," says David. One example: a high-profile mixed-use condominium in central Oregon. "We are almost guiding the entire thing," David says. "We try not to work on just a single piece of the puzzle."

Could your business use a makeover? In general, successful Makeover candidates are profitable small companies with at least $1 million in annual gross revenues. To submit your firm for consideration, e-mail the FSB makeover editor. Please describe your business briefly, provide your most recent and projected revenues, and explain why you think your company would benefit from a Makeover.

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Could your business use a makeover?  Top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.