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

Guest post by Rjon Robins

In the last article I shared a story about a great chef who once came into my law firm for help in opening his own restaurant. He was a great chef. 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.

So the lesson we all learned is that it takes more than being a great chef to start, market and effectively manage a successful restaurant. 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.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to that article with the first three “Truths”. And here are three more.

Important Truth # 4 – That nearly 60% of us are Solos. And so are most of the rest! Here’s an interesting statistic. Out of the approximately 1.3 million licensed lawyers in the U.S., 60% work as self-proclaimed solos or in a small firm with five or fewer lawyers. In my experience as a Law Practice Management Advisor counseling thousands of lawyers I will tell you the majority of those “small firms” are really functioning more like roommates and lack the Seven Hallmarks that make a law firm. These are shared: conflict system, billing, A/R, filing system, calendar, key policies, consistent marketing message, and written operating agreement. But keep in mind most lawyers in a big firm, they’re solo lawyers too. Let me explain.

Important Truth # 5 – How you’ll REALLY be evaluated if you go to work for a law firm, large or small. There is a concept in economics “limited price elasticity” which roughly translated means at some point, becoming an even better lawyer will not lead to proportional improvement of income. Beyond your own elasticity you must bring in more business to the firm than you yourself consume and/or make someone’s life in the firm easier. Ideally, both.

Most competent lawyers start to experience limitations on price elasticity in about their 5th year of private practice. You’ll also notice that’s when most lawyers leave big law firms either voluntarily or otherwise. Now you understand why I say we’re ALL solos. Because at the end of the day, (certainly at year-end), each of us must stand on our own merit. Just remember in the big law firm, behind those closed doors the management committee is probably meeting with a guy like me. And we’re looking at your numbers. If your numbers don’t justify your seat at a desk next year then it’s up to your benefactor to argue for your reprieve because you make his or her life easier.

Important Truth # 6 – Law firm success strategies are not the same strategies that made you successful in law school. Law school professors want legal analysis. Clients want solutions. I recently had occasion to interview a lawyer at a big law firm for some work for a client- I still have a very limited and very specialized private practice which mostly involves hiring technical lawyers, on behalf of certain clients. You could tell the lawyer must have done very well in law school. But my clients didn’t want their multi-million-dollar opportunity legally analyzed. They want it practically understood and resolved. That means an action plan. Success in a law firm, especially if your name is on the door, requires that you cultivate a bias for action. Action in your own marketing plans. Action in your resolution of client problems. Action in making improvements to the administration of your law firm. Paralysis by analysis has been the downfall of many smart, otherwise-capable lawyers.Don’t let it happen to you.

A Diagnostic Tip From The Trenches: Monitor how often you use the word “need” when referring to yourself. The more you use that word instead of “will” the less action you are probably taking.

Action Plan To Improve Your Practice Right Away:

  • Review the Hallmarks of a Law Firm in comparison to how your own law firm operates.
  • Review a report of how much business you have generated year to date in relation to your income goals so you’re not dependent on a benefactor.
  • Replace the word “need” in your vocabulary with the word “will”. See what that does for your income and peace of mind in just 30 days.