James M. Fisher II and Kevin E. Broyles – FisherBroyles
Quite the jump the FisherBroyles law firm had on the competition as far as remote operations are concerned. Its widely distributed 265-plus lawyers and support staff haven’t reported to an office since 2002, when founders and managing partners James M. Fisher II and Kevin E. Broyles deemed a physical facility dispensable.
No need for lavish headquarters and satellites with the high overhead that factors into the clients’ inflated fees elsewhere, this pair makes clear in a springtime interview with Vanguard. Not when modern technology enables so much to be done remotely.
Traditional law firms may be pivoting to sustain performance since COVID-19 essentially padlocked their offices indefinitely months ago, but at FisherBroyles they say it’s been very efficient cloud-based business as usual. Furthermore, as the firm closes in on $100 million in annual revenue, it stands to become the first non-traditional law firm to crack the Am Law 200, most likely this year.
“Eighteen years ago, we asked ourselves, ‘why do we even need an office?’” Fisher says from his Dallas-area home while Broyles weighs in on another line from Atlanta.
“What value does an office and all its trappings bring to the client anyway? We got rid of the fixed-cost real estate, the lawyer trainees, redundant support staff and the other inefficiencies that’s setting back traditional law firms today as they struggle to deal with this pandemic.”
The corporate choice
It should be mentioned that FisherBroyles isn’t a run-of-the-legal-mill operation. Nobody solicits this firm’s expertise for a DUI, divorce or plaintiff’s personal injury cases. The clientele is corporate—including Fortune 500 companies—and equally tech-savvy. They appreciate the time- and cost-savings as well as the Am Law 200 quality services from the same breed of lawyers who left those major firms for what FisherBroyles describes as a more rewarding and lucrative business model.
For experienced lawyers, that is; among this firm’s general criteria for becoming new partners being at least seven years’ experience, a material portion of which must have been obtained at an Am Law 200 law firm, and a minimum of $400,000 in portable business.
As millennial lawyers advance into their mid- and late-30s and garner experience, it could be an ideal landing for them, Fisher says, noting that demographic’s preference for no restrictions on their geography and time, and that young middle-agers are already well represented in the lineup.
Though their lawyers work independently within their respective areas of expertise, Broyles says the firm is highly collaborative. In fact, collaboration is such an important element of their trademarked Law Firm 2.0 model that there are significant financial incentives in its compensation formula for partners to collaborate.
FisherBroyles is a full-service business law firm like any major traditional law firm. Broadly speaking, the firm’s practice areas include corporate law and securities, M&A, litigation, tax, employment, executive compensation and benefits, private client services and intellectual property.
According to Broyles, that last area is enabled with the services and software of Anaqua, a Boston-headquartered international company that helps corporations and law firms manage IP through the world’s first web-based unified platform. Anaqua has more than doubled in size the past two years by merging with Lecorpio, another IP management software solutions specialist, solidifying its role as one of FisherBroyles’ partners.
“Anaqua has helped us by simplifying our docketing procedures and work flows,” Fisher says. “We use it for patent portfolio management as well as trademark portfolio and opposition management. The Anaqua team continually updates the law engine to automatically calculate due dates around the world, so we can be sure that dates are calendared correctly. The system is user-friendly and, above all, intuitive.”
The system also allows the firm to provide clients with managed access to their own dockets so they can keep tabs on their portfolio without having to even ask.
All about partnerships
While law partners at traditional firms generally keep around 30 percent of the revenue they generate, Fisher and Broyles say their model allows for as much as 80 percent in an environment that permits the attorney’s control of schedule and billing rates.
There’s no minimum billing quota to meet, no mandate of 2,000 billable hours that may be par for the course in traditional firms. Fisher and Broyles consider billing quotas to be a conflict of interest with their clients, Fisher says. When a partner recruits another, recurring revenue-based bonuses are paid to the recruiting partner for as long as both lawyers stay with FisherBroyles.
“We make it easier for them to keep their clients happy, and a platform for them to get more clients,” Fisher says. “Our clientele is the same as what you’d find at any Am Law 200 or even Am Law 100 firm.”
And citing a recent survey that reveals nearly 70 percent of lawyers would rather work at least much of their time remotely, the FisherBroyles bosses say recruitment isn’t an issue. At last count, 30 new lawyers have been welcomed into the fold this year, including some in the United Kingdom. Singaporean legal talent also is being targeted for a true global outreach.
As to how the team can be managed on multiple continents, each month there’s Zoom video conferencing with some consideration for time zones. Smaller practice groups convene more often, and pre-COVID there were firm-wide partners’ retreats and personal meet-and-greets at various locales which the partners hope to resume once health concerns are allayed.
Meanwhile they’re seeing other law firms trying to borrow from their business model, but they’re not unduly worried.
“Imitation of our Law Firm 2.0 model adds legitimacy to what we created, and as the first to market over 18 years ago we are by far the largest and most experienced distributed law firm partnership in the world,” says Fisher. “It would be virtually impossible to catch up with us, especially at the rate we continue to grow.”
“We are the game changers,” Broyles says. “You’re seeing the legal industry as a whole laying off attorneys and making capital calls for them to invest their own money into the firm’s future, and causing the partners to reassess the weakness of the traditional model. We beat them to it.”
One bubble bursts, another inflates
It now seems so long ago, the early 2000s, when Fisher and Broyles were two 30-something lawyers aiming to be dot-com multimillionaires with the internet still relatively new.
Fisher a University of Oklahoma College of Law grad with a Master’s in International Economic Law from the University of Houston and Broyles a Harvard Law grad—both represented technology startups at Morris, Manning & Martin.
Only that dot-com bubble was about to burst, and when it did each lawyer says he had to reassess what might happen to other professional associations that clung to yesterday’s modus operandi. Good times couldn’t last forever at the name-brand law firms, they reckoned. Eventually the blue-chip clients would fathom they were subsidizing the décor and paying for high-priced lawyers to be trained. More recently, the coronavirus has created an even bigger loss for those firms.
“Every day there’s a report of the traditional firm laying off attorneys, reducing compensation, eliminating staff—all futile attempts to cut the bleeding,” says Fisher. “They’re top-heavy with debt and fixed costs. We’re completely different. The vast majority of our costs are variable, so they ebb and flow in relation to our revenue and we been debt-free since our inception. We must be one of the most financially secure law firms in existence. Our model won’t just survive COVID, it’ll thrive.”
Broyles seconds the motion.
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