Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community. This month we are putting a spotlight on Ben Applegate – founding partner of Applegate & Thorne-Thomsen.
Ben founded his firm on the “counter cultural decision” that instead of requiring excessive work hours in order to meet an inflated bottom line, their firm would value time for life alongside earning “enough money.”
Ben Applegate: “We founded our firm in 1998 after leaving a larger firm. It’s a boutique practice providing housing and community development work funded primarily through tax credits and the government.
“Our mission statement has always been to be the best at what we do on a nationwide basis while balancing profitability and lifestyle for all of our employees. Anytime we bring someone into the firm we talk about our shared vision – to make a good living, but not necessarily the greatest of livings. That filter has served us very well. If we get a sense that someone who we are interviewing is only negotiating hard on salary, we know it’s not going to be a good fit.
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“When we started we had 4 lawyers, now we have 29 lawyers. I’m not sure if all of our success is do with our shared vision, or if it’s also to do with being a mission driven law firm doing community development work. But I do know that we never have to recruit, and we have a waiting list of people who are willing to abandon the “golden handcuffs” at their big firm positions to work with us.
“At many big firms the target is now 2,000 billable hours in order for you to get your bonus, and you may not even get your base salary if you don’t hit that target. We have been able to build our firm on a 1700 target. It’s a good trade-off. The discount on their salary is made up with more time for life.
“It doesn’t always work that way. We go through periods of ‘episodic overwork’ – when things pick up. But when this becomes ‘chronic overwork’ we know it’s time to go hire more people.
“There have been times when someone bills over 2,000 hours, and what we do is counsel them to see how we can help them get their lives more in balance. Obviously this was the opposite kind of conversation they were having at the large law firms that they came from.
“The benefits to our clients are clear. If you can operate within the 1700 billable hours model, that leaves capacity for the inevitable periods of episodic overwork, but you can meet these upticks in demands with greater efficiency and less burn out. If you are already at 2000 billable hours – if you are already running the factory at over capacity – then when you get another order in, something is going to break.
“The whole dollars trade off is something I’ve been preaching to Jessica and the other ThirdPath Pioneering Leaders forever. It’s really about making that counter cultural decision that enough money is enough, and that we don’t have to make it all about maximizing profits.”
To learn more about Ben Applegate and two other inspirational leaders who have created thriving law practices that support people to be successful at work AND successful in their lives outside of work, click the below SoundCloud icon. These three leaders are:
- Ben Applegate – Founding partner of Applegate & Thorne-Thomsen – see below for more information
- Tony Doniger, Senior partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen – read his commentary on this topic
- Peter Lando – Founding partner of Lando & Anastasi – read more about their firm’s philosophy
Thank you Ben, Tony and Peter for leading the way to creating truly 21st century workplaces!