Four (More) Important Truths About The Legal Industry They Didn’t Teach Us Back In Law School

Guest post by Rjon Robins

Last week I shared the first article in what has now become a series. It all began with a story about a great chef who once came into my law firm for help in opening his own restaurant. But he had no experience and undertook no training in the marketing or managing of a restaurant.

And against my counsel he went-ahead and opened his restaurant anyway, with predictably bad results. Just like it takes more than being a great lawyer to start, market and manage a successful law firm. Because there is simply a body of knowledge, “Truths” if you will, about the business side of the legal industry that one does not acquire through talent or by virtue being smart.

Feedback about those articles has been very encouraging so here are four more to make a total of Ten Important Truths About The Legal Industry They Didn’t Teach You Back In Law School.

Important Truth # 7

Being a successful associate at a law firm does not naturally endow a lawyer with requisite skills to start, market and manage a successful law firm.

In fact very often it’s the opposite. Unless you’re on the management committee, the way you get to be a successful associate or partner is to stay focused on just two things: Doing the legal work that comes into the firm; and Learning how to market the law firm to ensure that work keeps coming in for you. And ideally you’ll generate enough surplus to keep others in the firm busy too.

But the important truth is that no-one told you is that to have control over your legal career you must generate at least three times more business than your salary if you work for someone else. Twice your before-tax income goals if you’re going to run your own law firm. And if that’s the case then you must also acquire certain additional skills and stay on top of the management of law firm management systems, law office management policies and law practice management procedures.

All very do-able for sure, but still it has to get done.

Important Truth # 8

Your law firm is not your baby. It will never love you and it will never give you a hug. So instead of modeling your relationship with your law firm after that of a parent and a child, here’s an Important Truth they never told you in law school: The happiest lawyers who make the most money and have the most loyal clients, we model our relationships after that of the farmer and his or her mule.

Q. Why does the farmer have a mule?

A. To pull the plow.

Q. And why bother to get the plow pulled?

A. So the crops will grow and the farmer will have enough to feed his or her family.

And if the farmer takes good care of the mule and manages the crops in the field, then there should be enough surplus left-over, to take to market and make more profit.

Important Truth # 9

The debate over whether the practice of law is a “business” or is it a “profession” presents a false choice. And if you’re not careful it can ruin your life. The practice of law is a profession. No, it’s a business. No, it’s a profession! Here’s The Truth: IT’S BOTH. You simply cannot have a profitable law firm business if the lawyers who do the work aren’t treating their job as a profession. And those very professional lawyers are going to have a very hard time getting any professional work done if the business is not run at a profit. Tend to both and you’ll be a happier lawyer with more loyal clients. And oh, by the way you’ll make more money too.

Important Truth # 10

You hold the keys to your own kind of heaven or hell as a practicing lawyer. I have worked with thousands of lawyers and in dozens of practice areas. And I wouldn’t be keep doing it if I didn’t get something personally satisfying out of my work.

Not to be too melodramatic about it, but it really does upset me when I see my fellow lawyers settling for less than they deserve in terms of doing work we find intellectually stimulating; for clients we find personally rewarding; with compensation that rewards us for the value we create; and when I see them fail to run their practices in an efficient and professional manner. So their firms end up eating them alive.

A Diagnostic Tip From The Trenches: A predictable diagnostic tool for how much money and free time you’re likely leaving on the table every month is to calculate the ratio of how many hours a lawyer has invested to become a great practitioner vs. the number of hours invested to learn how to manage a small law firm and/or how to market a law firm.