Archive for July, 2011

12 Step Program for Law Firms

Author: Debra Baker
July 28, 2011

They say admitting you have a problem is the first sign of recovery.

For most law firms, that means acknowledging that you don’t have a business plan for practicing law.

How is your firm doing? If you can answer the following 12 questions with concrete answers, you are on the right track. If not, it might be time to seek some help.

Where do you want to be in five years?

1. How much money do you want to make?

2. What types of clients do you want to work with?

3. What types of people do you want to work with?

4. How hard do you want to work?

5. What kind of business culture do you want to cultivate in your firm?

Regardless of whether you work for a global 25 firm or are a solo practitioner, these questions are important to address. They will define what success looks like.

From there, you have the foundation to answer the questions that will help you build a solid plan.

6. How much revenue do you need to generate to make the money you want to make?

7. How does your firm need to be structured to achieve your goals?

8. How do the clients you want to work with make legal purchasing decisions?

9. How do the clients you want to work with perceive you and your firm?

10. What unique value proposition do you offer your clients?

11. Who do you compete with?

12. Where do you rank against your competition?

With the typically slow month of August approaching, this is a great time to focus on the business side of your practice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s an investment that pays dividends.

The value of a law degree: A response to scam bloggers

Author: Debra Baker
July 20, 2011

I’ve been following with interest the debate prompted by so-called “scam bloggers” over the value of a legal education and the obligation of law schools to provide accurate data to students about post-graduate job placements.

I empathize with graduates entering the workforce in search of jobs that don’t exist. I appreciate the added stress on those that financed their entire education and are now facing the reality that they have to pay those loans back. But to those who feel shocked and even defrauded by these realities, I lack sympathy. They have no one to blame but themselves.

The country is recovering from the largest recession in our history. Law firms and legal services organizations have cut their staffs to the bone. The number of law school graduates entering the workforce is at an all-time high. What did you think was going to happen?

Law graduates are no different than any other graduate entering the work force. The legal profession isn’t facing anything that the medical profession, the accounting profession and countless others haven’t faced. The need for legal services is as great now as it ever has been. The difference is that the business of law has changed. .

If you want to be a lawyer, you need to change the way you think about a legal career. Law school graduates are smart people, so — right or wrong — don’t cry fowl because your law school tracks the editor of the law review as employed because she is working at Starbucks. If you want to be a lawyer, do your homework. If you are looking to graduate with a six-figure salary waiting for you, make sure you know the following:

1. The gap between the Global 25 firms and the rest of law firms is widening. That means there are going to be fewer high-paid associate positions.

2. Many legal services have been commoditized. That means lawyers can no longer command the same fees for doing the same work. That means the value of what you do as a first year lawyer has decreased. That means you get paid less.

3. The path to partnership will no longer come by grinding out long hours. If you want to make partner, you need to generate business. Equally important, you need to master relationship development.

To be sure, law schools should be held accountable for providing accurate data. To be sure, predatory lending to students should be addressed aggressively.

But, to be sure, law students and all graduates need to take ownership of their future. They need to decide what they are looking to get out of their education in the context of the overall cost of the degree.That’s called a cost-benefit analysis. That’s business. That’s what it means to be a lawyer in today’s economic climate.

Reflections on the impact of the emerging Global 25: Part 3

The first time I heard the term, ‘lawyer’s lawyer’ was during an interview with a senior partner about what made his firm different. His response was that they were “lawyer’s lawyers.”

He was referring to the reputation the firm’s lawyers held within the legal community — among their peers, their opponents and the bench. Being a ‘lawyer’s lawyer’ validates something that drives most every lawyer I know: The need to be recognized for being really good at what they do.

Unfortunately, it is no longer enough to be a ‘lawyer’s lawyer.’ It is not that subject matter expertise and professionalism are not important. They are. But those qualities are merely the price of entry. Lawyers today need to do more. They need to be ‘client’s lawyers.’

Client’s lawyers are true strategic partners. They focus on matter management, providing value-added services, forging strong client relationships.

Inside the law firm, they may not bill the most hours. But they are finding ways to make the work they do more efficient for their clients. Perhaps most significant is that they repeatedly bring in new business from the same clients over and over.

There is no question that the attributes of a ‘lawyer’s lawyer’ are important, but the true rainmakers of the future are those who can manage work effectively and build client relationships. Firms need to stop focusing on hours billed and mere reputation and start looking at the qualities lawyers hold as it relates to building repeatable business from profitable clients. That’s where the talent focus needs to shift.

As the gap between the emerging Global 25 and the rest of the firms widens, firms on the outside looking in need to rethink they way the value their own lawyers. Firms need to look at their partnership criteria and make sure that being a “client’s lawyers” is equal to, if not more important than, being a “lawyer’s lawyer.”

That’s the true point of differentiation.