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  I love lawyers.

I am a lawyer. I am married to a lawyer. I am the friend of hundreds of lawyers and hold thousands more in great regard. If you're a lawyer (or love them), welcome. I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas in this space.

Try, Try Again: Likely Paths to Sooth A Broken Heart

Try, Try Again: Likely Paths to Sooth A Broken Heart PHOTOBringing in business as a lawyer has one general roadmap, but with many variations:

You come to understand a person or an enterprise, usually by reading or asking questions; you determine if you can help that person or enterprise with your legal skills; and if you can be of help, you try to get in front of the person or company to offer your help. The result of this is that sometimes you are given work, sometimes not.

Lawyers can flounder in the first two parts, in determining which clients would make sense for them. However, being turned down after making an attempt at forming a client relationship is what can break lawyers’ hearts. From my vantage point, I have seen how things can turn around after these so-called “defeats” so I encourage lawyers to understand that, losing once is not losing forever, and that losses can, in various ways, lead to later success.

I recently spoke with a litigator, whom I did not know well, at a small successful firm with ten to fifteen lawyers. I knew that this person was respected by a wide array of other attorneys, many of whom had sent him work. I will now share his story here because it demonstrates that “pushing on” is crucial to rainmaking success.

This attorney began his legal career as an associate with a national firm. After fifteen years, he had no clients that he considered his own. However, during those years, he had developed excellent relationships with a few of the firm’s regular litigation clients. During one extremely successful win, he obtained a summary judgment (upheld on appeal) defending an aviation product liability case where many millions (now it would perhaps amount to billions) of dollars were at stake. He then repeated this success with another, similar, products liability win for a large transportation client. About this time, the lawyer sought a judgeship that he did not obtain. Shortly thereafter, a client for whom he had won handsomely perceived a conflict with its and the lawyer’s current firm. This led to his decision to leave the firm.

Interviewing for positions was difficult, as he had no certain clients. The attorney ended up accepting a position with a salary of less than half of what he had previously been making. Within a short time, he received a few good referrals from lawyers at his previous firm. More importantly, a few other attorneys left that firm to open a local office for a different national firm, and from that firm sent him substantially more business.

With all the business coming to him, this lawyer now had the ability to take cases on contingency or negotiated rates and, although done judiciously and seldom, it was a factor in clients’ minds.

In an effort to expand his network, the lawyer joined a city-wide networking group, then another business networking organization, and an alumni networking group. A few years later, he formed his own networking group consisting of established professionals of varying types who meet to understand each other’s industries as well as their practices regarding rainmaking. He also joined a charitable board to give back to others; this, too, allows him to meet others for potential business.

As a result of his efforts, the lawyer now brings in seventy to eighty new matters a year. At least half of these only have bills amounting to $25,000 or less and while these cases would not have been appreciated, and perhaps not even welcome, at his former national firm, he welcomes this opportunity to help others. Periods during which he has only smaller active cases add to his quality of life in one especially meaningful way. He takes regular vacations, which he previously was not able to do.

Being willing to put himself out there after a non-partnership experience at a large firm and being turned down for a judicial appointment has helped make him who he is today. One could say the variety of losses he has endured has also created a variety of “wins,” leading to a multilayered, multifaceted and successful professional experience.

Posted in Career Happiness, Career Strategy, Networking, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fast, Good, Cheap – Choose Two

FAST-GOOD-CHEAP PHOTOI first heard this apparently well-known phrase about selecting lawyers a month ago when my friend Doug Levinson used it in describing how clients select lawyers.  The phrase struck me as inherently true, but also so cynical that it should mostly be said behind closed doors.  Still, because it is true, when lawyers present themselves, they need to actually or subliminally convey a clear message about which two qualities they generally offer.

Let’s examine these characteristics one at a time, in the context of lawyers and legal services.

Fast:  Regarding legal work, “fast” is not determined by hours, days or weeks.  Fast in legal work means efficient, and efficient varies by assignment.

Lawyers are efficient in three main ways.  The most obvious way is through experience. When a particular project is one a lawyer or firm has seen before it can be done efficiently: the lawyer or firm has leased warehouses similar to the one you need to lease, litigated employment clauses like the one in dispute, or sold a manufacturing company like the one you are now selling.  The second path to efficiency is through raw brain power.  The best transactional lawyers for new types of deals are the ones whose brains have moments of engineering genius.  Such abilities are born, not made.  Finally, there is size. Intricate work demands layered lawyering, and cannot be done well without a sizable team.  One or two people can never pump out a work product best done by a team of a dozen or more, because the larger team creates efficiency.  It is worth remembering, however, that most legal work is not intricate.

Good:  The best legal work often looks seamless, and perhaps simple, to clients – clear contracts, with well delineated issues written with a minimum of jargon; litigations won on motion practice; tax liabilities avoided by planning, timing, and categorization.

Good legal work does not announce itself.  When things go well, the results of good legal work can look similar to the results of mediocre, or even bad, legal work.  But when things go south, clients count their lucky stars if they had contingencies covered and damages predetermined.  Why litigate when you can draft?  And if you must litigate, why be in unnecessary mire?

Cheap:  It is easy to forget that “cheap” is a word with two non-overlapping meanings.  Cheap has both a morally neutral and morally pejorative meaning.  In its neutral form, cheap means inexpensive, but still of good quality.  In its derogatory form, it describes imprecise, and often harmful, corner-cutting.   When legal services are called cheap, it is usually a compliment.  Someone who wants or needs to shop for legal services by price can find a “cheap” lawyer who will get an adequate job done for an affordable price.  The work may not be superb, but legal protections will be adequate.

So which two do you offer?  If you are good enough, try to satisfy your client’s preferences.   Sometimes you can ask which two the client wants, but not crassly.  When do you need this?  What is your budget?  Do you need to cover all contingencies or prepare for all possibilities?

Most lawyers have a standard duo they deliver, but it sometimes varies.  If you can do certain work fast and inexpensively because for you it is routine, say so.   If you are asked to do something outside of your standard repertoire, you can then say it will be high quality (if you are smart), but it will not be fast because you need to think through issues that are new to you.

It is easy to know your cost for services, and not too hard to find out how they compare to others.  If you do good work for a fair price, you can consider yourself “cheap” in the best sense.  (See my earlier blog, Very Good Can Be Good Enough.” )

Feel free to consider your work “fast” for projects where you do not have to recreate the wheel, for things where your natural abilities lie, or on items where you can work a team and divide the work efficiently.

You can claim your work is good when it has stood the test of time and reputation.  If others believe your work is of high quality, ask those you have satisfied if you may quote them.  Tout your public successes, and announce respect from the well respected.

Although on rare occasion a lawyer’s work may be good, fast and cheap, when it is all three it is simple work.  Decide which two are your general strong suits and make them known when discussing your value to clients.

Posted in Career Strategy, Legal Skills, Reputation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Tattoo Removal

A cynical and successful business lawyer I know believes there are three universal questions within law firms: “Who’s boss?”, “How loyal are you?”, and “How long are you planning to stay with the firm?” Some might say that the mere act of considering these questions as paramount undercuts any real concern for colleagues. Still, from what I have seen, as a rainmaking and recruiting consultant, most firms include lawyers who work well together and like each other. However, when significant energy is spent on intra-firm power and money struggles the result is unhappy lawyers, or worse. Sometimes the power plays and money divisions are so intolerable to lawyers that they start to leave the firm. When enough people leave, it can start a dangerous downward spiral. Over the years, local and national law firms of varying sizes have been significantly harmed, and sometimes closed, over the issue of how authority and money is divided.
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Posted in Compensation, Internal Firm Relations, Law Firm Profits | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Holiday Choices

Holiday ChoicesPHOTO Emply Egg Type Chairs in loungeWhile I was still in law school and interviewing for a summer associate position, a mid-level associate with a large firm bragged to me that he had been delighted to cancel his July 4th plans with his wife and child during that holiday. His pride stemmed from being considered “crucial” to this client. Since I had no reason to suspect that this person did not care about his family, I reasoned that he was an ambitious lawyer and knew where his priorities lay.
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Posted in Career Success, Client Responsiveness, Practice Habits | 1 Comment

Thanksgiving – Sometimes You Pay It Forward

Referrals Within Your Firm PHOTO, Lazy Susan at RestaurantThanksgiving starts the holiday season in which most of us remember, appreciate, and thank the people who have helped us throughout the past year. For lawyers, thinking about who shared or referred business is often easy to remember: the bills you sent are probably good reminders. Gifts may be appreciated, but are seldom crucial. Contact, however, is crucial. Thank your clients and referral sources. Any form of direct contact will do, but don’t forget. Pick up the phone or send an e-mail or note, making explicit reference to what the person did and your gratitude. Continue reading

Posted in Career Happiness, Friends, Referrals | Leave a comment