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Joseph A. Bubba, Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba

Firm Name: Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba

Firm Leader: Joseph A. Bubba, Co-Managing Shareholder

Head Count: 35 attorneys, 78 employees

Locations: Lehigh Valley

Practice Areas: Full service

Governance structure and compensation model: The firm is governed by an Executive Committee and Co-Managing Shareholders. Our compensation model has always been a merit-based system, taking into account origination revenue, work attorney revenue and other factors. Compensation is not based purely upon an arithmetic formula.

Do you offer alternative fee arrangements? The firm works closely with clients to find the right financial fit for them. We have a number of alternative fee arrangements in place, especially in areas of litigation and estate planning and administration. However, it is our experience that our clients still generally prefer an hourly fee arrangement on the whole.

**The following answers were completed by Bubba. They were edited lightly for style.**

What do you view as the two biggest opportunities for your firm, and what are the two biggest threats?

The firm’s biggest opportunity is that the Lehigh Valley, while growing significantly, is still somewhat of a parochial region. The business community still prefers to do business with Lehigh Valley firms. For 30 years, Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba has built an organization that is now synonymous with the business of law in the Lehigh Valley. We are recognized as the leading law firm in the Lehigh Valley, and we have a significant community presence. As a result, developing and maintaining clients has never been a significant challenge. In the same regard, our space costs and other related expenses are somewhat deflated. We are able to offer significant and sophisticated legal services at rates that are much lower than our competitors in Philadelphia, New Jersey and even Harrisburg.

Second, we have also had the opportunity to expand our reach into the surrounding region. Again, due to our rates and overall strategic business plan, we successfully expanded our services and presence into Upper Bucks County, Montgomery County, Berks County, the Poconos and western New Jersey, areas where businesses have typically used firms from larger metropolitan areas. We have opened a satellite office in Easton and have evaluated other possible expansions to continue to serve these areas.

While not fully a threat, in order to continue the work that we have done, we need to attract the best and brightest both from law schools and as laterals. Since our starting salary may not be at the same level as the upper rung of Philadelphia firms, we have always had to find a way to attract and convince candidates that, longer-term, they can have a very rewarding professional and financial career despite the disparity in starting salaries. This model has worked, and we’ve effectively recruited a number of younger attorneys who started their careers at larger firms. They now help mentor and recruit other attorneys with the examples of their own success.

The legal market is so competitive now—what trends do you see, and has anything, including alternative service providers, altered your approach? Is your chief competition other mid-market firms, or is your firm competing against big firms for the same work?

Alternative service providers have had no tangible impact on our firm. For our transactional, banking, estate planning and commercial real estate work, our typical competitors are large firms from major metropolitan areas. Once a client realizes it does not need representation from a large firm to receive the same quality and nuanced service, our rates and our work product, effectively, become our marketing strategy.

There is much debate around how law firms can foster the next generation of legal talent. What advantages and disadvantages do midsize firms have in attracting and retaining young lawyers, particularly millennials?

The next generation of legal talent realizes, rather quickly, that they can become a big fish in a small pond in our setting and in our partnership track model. We like to say that we are a pure meritocracy, without regard to seniority or other rigid factors.

Does your firm employ any nonlawyer professionals in high-level positions (e.g. COO, business development officer, chief strategy officer, etc.)? If so, why is it advantageous to have a nonlawyer in that role? If not, have you considered hiring any?

Our Chief Operating Officer and Marketing Director roles are filled by nonlawyers. These individuals bring a background and experience from completely different markets, such as the healthcare and financial sectors. There are great advantages to this model. Primarily, these individuals know how to run businesses and provide a unique overlay to a profession that has not historically focused on traditional business models and methods. At the same time, nonlawyers in these positions need to understand the unique challenges of the legal profession. There is often a learning curve for both attorneys and business people that requires open and candid dialogue.

What would you say is the most innovative thing your firm has done recently, whether it be technology advancements, internal operations, how you work with clients, etc.?

We have had a great deal of success recently embedding our attorneys within our clients’ offices and in-house legal departments. Responding to our larger clients’ growing needs, we’ve created arrangements where clients can utilize our attorneys for any number of reasons, including internal attrition, specific projects or required specific expertise. For the past several years, at any given time, you’d find three to four of our attorneys working for our clients at their offices. These arrangements offer a tremendous financial benefit, while also allowing us to continually fill the plates of our newer attorneys. It also strengthens our relationships with our clients and provides real world exposure to newer attorneys.

Does your firm have a succession plan in place?  If so, what challenges do you face in trying to execute that plan? If you don’t currently have a plan, is it an issue your firm is thinking about?

Looking forward and planning for the future has been one of our hallmarks of success. We fully recognize that maintaining our current position is critical to the success of the next generation. We recently moved to a Co-Managing Shareholder model so that the role can be shared by both an older and a younger generation attorney, ensuring that our core belief systems carry on. We have begun to shift some of our department head positions to attorneys with a bit less seniority so that those individuals who had previously been in the roles can provide mentorship and guidance before retirement. We also include the next generation in discussions regarding significant issues facing the firm, such as office locations and expansion opportunities.

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Lizzy McLellan

Lizzy McLellan writes about the Pennsylvania legal community and the business of law at firms of all sizes. Contact her at lmclellan@alm.com. On Twitter: @LizzyMcLell

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