‘Finance guy’ helps lawyers understand the bottom line

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“You would be surprised how much
of the Army finance skill set you can
bring to the business world,” Griffin says.

2016 Virginia CFO Award winner

Mike D. Griffin
Tucker Griffin Barnes PC, Charlottesville

Everyone at the Charlottesville-based law firm Tucker Griffin Barnes PC knows Mike Griffin’s favorite saying: “It’s each attorney’s job to fight for justice; it’s my job to keep everyone focused on generating profits.”

“I’m the finance guy, and that’s my number one priority,” Griffin says. “I have to keep lawyers focused on the fact that it’s a business as well. Most attorneys don’t come out of law school knowing how to run a business. They come out knowing how to be an attorney. I spend a lot of my time helping the attorneys understand the business side of their law practice.”

The law firm’s president, William D. Tucker III, sees the inability to manage  profit as the biggest problem facing law firms today.

“Law firms have been consumed with the billable hour,” he says. “Due to Mike’s insight on law-firm business models, profitability ratios, his ability to create consensus among firm partners and his unique experience, our firm is now structured around layers of profit-and-loss statements.”

Since joining the firm in 2003, Griffin has created P&L statements for the overall firm and each branch (in addition to Charlottesville, it has offices in Harrisonburg and Palmyra), department and attorney. The result has been a significant increase in profitability at all levels.

“Mike has brought it to a point where lawyers understand the business of a law practice,” Tucker says, noting that Griffin’s wife, Yvonne, is one of the firm’s senior partners.

Griffin enjoys working with business models. “I put together a series of management reports that we call dashboards to assess where the company stands so the partners can make decisions very quickly about finance,” he says.

One of the Georgia native’s strengths is his even-keel demeanor, Tucker says. “He handles problems without a lot of stress,” says the law firm president. “Mike’s definition of chaos is the area that lies between the task required and the level of experience available. He is constantly training and updating office protocols with attorneys and staff. He is focused on reducing complexity and that has reduced chaos.”

The firm has benefited from Griffin’s 20-plus years as an Army finance officer. “You would be surprised how much of the Army finance skill set you can bring to the business world,” he says. “In the military you learn how to manage chaos because you could find yourself in a fluid situation. You have to make a lot of decisions under pressure. There is a lot of room for misunderstanding ... We had to learn to manage chaos there for the unit and move in the right direction.”

Since joining the law firm 13 years ago, Griffin has instituted a rolling strategic planning process. Every month the firm’s partners meet and talk about strategy. “He is really good at creating a strategic plan for the firm,” Tucker says. “He is planning for the future.”

Bryan Thomas, senior vice president and market president for BB&T in the Charlottesville area, appreciates Griffin’s ability to foresee the firm’s needs.

“He has always been quick to ask when he needs help,” he says. “He will say, “We have this situation. How can we address it?’ Then we come up with a solution.”

Griffin also helped develop a policy allowing mothers employed by the firm to bring their babies to work after their maternity leave ends. “We are not the typical high-pressure law firm. We are more relaxed,” says Tucker.

The  babies-in-the-workplace policy was highlighted on NBC’s “Today Show.” “It made our law firm a better place to work,” Tucker says. “It was a great addition.”

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