This is a guest commentary from Patrick J. Stueve. Hear from other Missouri entrepreneurs In Their Words.
Inspired by the leadership qualities of lawyers like Abraham Lincoln, Atticus Finch, John Adams and even my Scout leader Mr. McGannon, I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer.
At 37 years old, I was a partner at a premier commercial litigation firm – by all accounts, I was enjoying a successful and secure career. But something was off. I grew increasingly disenchanted by the economics of the traditional law firm model, where hourly billing incentivizes attorneys to spend more time churning on cases – not always in the client’s best interest. I wanted to implement a model where I got paid on the results I delivered and the value I provided. I wanted to be invested in my cases and my clients. A contingency model – if my client wins, I win; if my client loses, I don’t get paid – would allow me to align my interests with my client’s and to develop strong, trusting relationships with them.
Some people thought I was crazy. But my wife Janna was never one of them. She was essential in my decision to start my own firm, and she was more than willing to take on the risk (even with three children in private school at the time). So there it began. I developed a pro forma, worked with the bank and used ALL of my net worth to personally guarantee a line of credit. In 2001, Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP launched. I found office space sufficient for future growth, deployed one of the area’s first law firm websites and engaged in some aggressive shoe-leather marketing to land our first cases.
We’ve come a long way since then. Yes, there were missteps and many lessons learned, but thankfully none that ever put the firm’s long-term viability at risk. One business move that has worked well is bonusing our team based on the success of the firm, a move we saw as consistent with our risk-sharing, value-based model. Depending on how long the employee has been with the firm, these bonuses can double or triple a staff or attorney’s base salary – but, like our cases, it’s contingent on our collective success. This has resulted in a committed staff; the recruitment of entrepreneurial lawyers; and above all, a culture that relays we’re all in this together.
I feel very blessed that our firm reflects the values of what I think a law firm should stand for. All clients are firm clients. All fees paid by our clients are based on the results we secure for our clients. All our employees share in the success of the firm. We promote from within and build teams that make the most of our individual strengths. We have strong trust-based relationships with our clients – whether our client is a Fortune 500 company, a small entrepreneur, or an individual.
Patrick J. Stueve is a founding partner at Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP. The Kansas City-based law firm is one of the largest contingency-based firms in the country and specializes in complex business litigation and multi-party actions, as well as dangerous product and personal injury cases. For more information, visit StueveSiegel.com.