Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 8

PR AC TICE MANAGEMENT

An Innovation Model
for Firms to Follow
By Dan Mills

(PART ONE OF A TWO-PART SERIES)

I

n March, just before stay-at-home
orders went into effect, Ben
Lieber and Marlene Laro were
planning to mark the hiring of their
firm's 100th lawyer. The global
pandemic may have disrupted
plans for an in-person celebration,
but Potomac Law Group, PLLC has
continued to grow despite the
economic crisis that followed.
In fact, if one set out to design a law firm to
weather what 2020 has thrown at the legal
profession so far, it would likely be Potomac
Law's model. How did a firm that was launched
in 2011 during the last recession grow so
rapidly with a business model that does not
include a big brick-and-mortar footprint and
the traditional partner-apprentice Big Law
structure?
"I conceived of Potomac Law as a firm for
high-powered lawyers who wanted the work
flexibility and earnings transparency they could
not find in Big Law," says Lieber, managing
partner and the firm's founder.
Potomac Law grew quickly by word of mouth.
Over time, an increasing number of Big Law
partners seeking greater autonomy over their
rates, less bureaucracy, and a more collaborative culture became interested in the Potomac
Law model.
"At first our growth tended to be with counsel
level . . . lawyers seeking more flexible hours,
and after a couple years we started bringing in
partners with significant business. Our flexible

8

WASHINGTON LAWYER

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model fit them as well," says Lieber. "They still
wanted to be part of a firm of high-performing
professionals, but they sought more autonomy
over the direction of their practice."
Yet, despite the advantages of a new model,
the idea of working outside of a large,
established office at a recognizable urban
address (a Big Law feature) might have given
some lawyers pause - that is, until the
pandemic forced everyone to work remotely.
"Our concept had really proven itself well
before COVID disrupted the landscape," says
Laro, partner and chief operating officer at
Potomac Law. "However, the pandemic has
heightened the interest in new model firms
such as Potomac in view of the firsthand
experience of working remotely and under
increasing economic pressures. We've had
a significant uptick in interest from lawyers
in firms with traditional models who are
unsettled by sudden pay cuts and capital calls."
"Now the idea of working outside of a
traditional office setting has been tested by
almost all lawyers under the stay-at-home
orders. Most lawyers have realized the benefits
of working remotely, including time efficiency
and the absence of a commute," says Laro.
What makes Potomac Law unique, and is it
the law firm model of the future? "Because
we are made up of experienced lawyers with
exceptional client skills who are not burdened
with traditional overhead, our lawyers can
decide to charge less than their prior firm rate,
maintain their earnings level, and have a more
transparent earnings formula," explains Lieber.
What clearly appeals to both the firm's lawyers
and their clients is this bit of alchemy: Potomac
Law charges significantly less than the Big Law
firms from which its lawyers came, and it often
manages to pay its lawyers more. "Most of
our partners bill in the $475 to $650 per hour
range," says Lieber. "These are people who

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020

billed out at much higher rates in Big Law,
sometimes in excess of $1,000 an hour. Part of
the reason they are now at Potomac is because
they have the flexibility to set their rates lower
and still earn 75 percent or more of what they
originate and service. That is a significantly
greater share than what they earned previously."
How is this possible? Potomac Law has never
been burdened by aspects of the Big Law
model that have destroyed some traditional
firms in the past decade: expensive brick-andmortar space, the traditional partner-apprentice dynamic, and bloated staff.
The formula that Lieber and Laro devised is
simple and effective: Focus on the client and
give excellent service at a very reasonable price;
focus on the lawyer and provide flexibility,
autonomy, support, and compensation that
typically meets or exceeds their prior experience; and keep overhead down by avoiding
excessive real estate expense and the other
bureaucracy that plagues Big Law.
"What our lawyers appreciate in particular is
our transparency," explains Lieber. "Our lawyers
are compensated based upon productivity and
origination. There are no salaries, other than
for support staff. Our lawyers know what they
are earning throughout the year. There are no
year-end meetings behind closed doors with
origination fights and surprise announcements."
Potomac Law's infrastructure is simple and
efficient as well. It did not make the mistake
of other nontraditional firms within the last
decade by investing in custom, expensive, proprietary applications. Potomac relies on commercially available, state-of-the-art applications
entirely, such as Office 365 and its plethora of
collaboration apps, including Bill4Time for time
and billing and NetDocuments for document
management.
Potomac Law is innovative in most respects;
however, its marketing is essentially traditional.



Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
ABA Delegates Corner
Calendar of Events
Re-Envisioning the Bar Exam feature
The New Normal in Legal Education feature
On Shaky Ground feature
How the Pandemic Has Transformed Courts Feature
The Science of Why Clients Ignore Counsel's Advice feature
Taking the Stand
On Further Review
The Learning Curve
Member Spotlight - Susan Biniaz
Member Spotlight - Whit Washington
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Disciplinary Summaries
Speaking of Ethics
Pro Bono Effect
A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 7
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 9
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - ABA Delegates Corner
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Re-Envisioning the Bar Exam feature
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 14
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - The New Normal in Legal Education feature
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 20
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - On Shaky Ground feature
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 24
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - How the Pandemic Has Transformed Courts Feature
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 28
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 30
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - The Science of Why Clients Ignore Counsel's Advice feature
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 34
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 35
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 36
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - The Learning Curve
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 43
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Member Spotlight - Susan Biniaz
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 45
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Member Spotlight - Whit Washington
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 47
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 50
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Speaking of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 53
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - 55
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - September/October 2020 - Cover4
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