Lawyers and professional magnetism
Solo and small firm attorneys are always hustling for business,
in order to keep the pump primed. Especially with respect to solo
attorneys, there is no doubt as to where clients' loyalties lie.
There are a number of advantages that come along with managing a
small business, mostly surrounding the ability to call all the
shots and the flexibility attaching to your business life that
germinates from that one construct. But it's also all on you when
you're a small business owner. In many cases, nobody's generating
business for you, if you're not.
When you work for a law firm, you enter upon a different sort of
gig entirely. The overarching advantage of working for someone else
is that, in opposition to owning a small business, it's not "on
you", in any meaningful way. You can be replaced, but so long as
you retain your position, your overriding perception is one of
stability. The work comes in, the work goes out. The pay comes in,
the pay goes out. You need not focus on very much, aside from
completing the substantive tasks you are assigned.
The plain fact of the matter (and this is especially the case in
the current economy) is that employees switch jobs regularly. I
speak with a number of lawyers who leave law firm employment to
start their own law firms. It's a dream that a number of lawyers
share. The only problem is that most lawyers aren't preparing for
that eventuality or potentiality.
Many lawyers, even those who have always had in the back of
their minds the kernel of an idea to start their own business,
never intentionally go about creating a book of business for
themselves, even as attorneys have a unique opportunity to do just
that. The primary question for any attorney who is leaving law firm
employment should be: How many clients will follow me? The lower
that number is, the more difficult it will be to start a new law
firm. If you're starting from scratch, you've gained no personal
advantage from the work you have put in up to that time. Even if
starting a solo practice is merely a hedge until you can again find
employment, aren't you more marketable to employers if you can
bring a significant book of business into the fold?
This is why lawyers of any stripe must be acutely aware of the
personal connections that they establish with their clients. Not
only is it smart marketing, it's just good business for lawyers to
create professional bonds with their clients. No one bonds with a
company's nameplate. They bond with the people with whom they work,
within the company. If you make yourself memorable via the quality
of your work, the level of service you provide and your personal
style, you can create meaningful connections with your clients,
regardless of the auspices under which they come to you. If you can
develop a personal service brand within the context of your firm,
you can assure that people remember one name on your business
card-your own. You should always keep a weather eye to
building and buttressing your book of business, because you never
know when you will have to take it with you.
If you own a law firm and employ associates, this is all very
unsettling news. But it is the case, regardless of whether I say it
or not. Transportable business relationships are a fact, but not
everybody tends to them. On the other hand, tending to potentially
transportable business does not mean that you abandon all sense of
loyalty at the door. In large part, you are paid for your loyalty
to a business.You can be personally charismatic without overtly
coveting any firm business that you can get your hands on. Being
memorable is not necessarily synonymous with being stealthy. There
are, of course, also rules about the contact you may have with
clients, and your former firm, if or when you decide to leave.
Tip courtesy of Jared Correia, Law Office Management
Published November 20, 2014
To learn more about the Law Practice Management
Section, which is complimentary for all MBA members,
contact LPM Section Chair Cynthia E.
MacCausland or Vice Chair Damian J.