November 06, 2008

Law Firm Training Programs and Other Fractured Fairy Tales

In Jim Hassett's Legal Business Development Blog we learn something rather astonishing (not) about the real agenda of law schools and law firms.

This month’s meeting of the Boston Legal Business Development Roundtable (Choate, Goodwin Procter, Goulston, Holland & Knight, K&L Gates, Nixon Peabody, and Nutter, McClennen & Fish ) was the first time we invited an outside speaker.   Seven senior business development professionals from Boston’s largest firms talked with Dr. David Nersessian about his work as Executive Director of the Harvard Law School Program on the Legal Profession, and discussed recent trends as viewed from the academy and from the trenches.

The reason I bring it to your attention is to help dispell the myth when you get a job at a Big Law firm right out of law school it will help you when you decide to leave to open your own successful solo practice.  This blurb is Jim's synopsis of the discussion and an anonymous quote from an attendee:

Law firms have wildly different ideas about how associates should be involved in developing new business, or even whether they should.  At one extreme, some firms see business development as the single most critical skill in any associate’s long term success.  At the other extreme, some firms honestly don’t want associates to think about business development, or anything else that distracts them from generating more revenue.  If an associate is billing 2400 hours, and encouraged to bill more, when exactly is she supposed to be developing new business?

For firms that do want associates developing business, law schools provide poor preparation.  In fact, some at our meeting said law schools don’t prepare associates to do many of the things that matter in their careers.  As one participant put it: “The irony of even a top tier legal education is how little it teaches about real world business issues, or core sales and marketing tools such as networking, asking probing questions that uncover pain, pipeline development, or building a brand--all skills that are arguably important to succeeding in a leading law firm in today's world."

If your ambition is to open your own solo practice, do not rely upon your law school or your first job at Big Law to provide the practical education you require in order to achieve your goals. If you know you want to go solo upon passing the bar or shortly thereafter, your 'education' needs to be through your own efforts while in law school, or within your current job and/or utilizing resources which cater to the unique challenges you will face as both a professional and a business owner.

This fanciful delusion of the benevolent mentor/employer who will teach you the ins and outs of both the practice of law and the business of running a law practice is distracting and costly for the serious entrepreneur.  Some lawyers never fully recover from their disillusionment.

(H/T to Edward Wiest)

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students why not subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

October 26, 2008

Still Fantasizing About That Big Law Job? Snap Out Of It!

   

https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/images/ccarter/2005/06/03/crowd.jpg

According to the ABA, 2009 will see nearly 44,000 fresh-faced law school grads carrying an average debt load of about $73,000 in loan debt.  "...... only a small fraction will land the big firm job, leaving the rest to wonder whether they’ll find “any kind of attorney work” post-graduation.

(H/T to Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice)

NEW The Layoff List

Mayer Brown Lays off 33

White & Case Layoff 70 Associates

New Law Grads Should Have a Back Up Plan

Is An LLM a Good Back Up Plan? (NOT!)

Hiring Freezes

Thelen Collapses

The Hiring Bubble

Clifford Chance Laying Off Associates

Sonnenschein Swinging The Ax

Summer Associates Positions Could Decline by Up to 35%

Big Wave of Layoffs Hits Heller   And They are Pissed?

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students why not subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

August 27, 2008

How Solos take on the Big Boys

I just read a great blog post from Jordan Furlong of Law 21 and editor in chief of the Canadian Bar Association's National Magazine called "How David Beat Goliath."  WOW.

Jordan analogizes the Solos and Big Law to the story of David and Goliath in terms of competition for clients, utilizing our unique strengths to overcome Big Law's inherent weaknesses.

https://www.pdimages.com/B02827.JPG.....young David was no fool: he didn’t engage a gigantic opponent in hand-to-hand combat. He kept his distance, picked up a sling and stone, and took out a heavily armed warrior with missile fire. David was one of history’s earliest recorded asymmetric fighters.

There’s a lesson here for lawyers who work in smaller operations, from midsize firms all the way down to sole practices: taking on your bigger competitors on their terms is a losing strategy. Either avoid their strengths or capitalize on their weaknesses, but at all times remember that you can’t do business the way they do and you shouldn’t try.

Jordan discusses recent news articles which highlight areas where solos hold all the cards versus Big Law  (which readers of Build A Solo Practice already know :-):

  • Technology
  • Receivables
  • Exclusivity
  • Payroll
  • Women

And with one parting shot he reminds us:

What it comes down to is: don’t try transplanting a large firm’s business model to your more modest tract of land. Identify your bigger rivals, figure out their vulnerabilities, and make the appropriate changes to your own smaller firm’s profile.

But one final note of caution; beware of focusing too much on your competitors and not enough on your own strengths and vision. David was smart enough to use a sling and stone against a giant. But he was also adept enough with that weapon to take the giant down with one shot.

In my comment to Jordan I did say the following, though:

Solos have the ability to do everything you described. Successful solos already exploit Big Law’s weaknesses and therefore have no competition. They are not mini-Big Law, they are solos which is a distinct category without competition. They function differently and generally different mindset, that of the entrepreneur.

I’d like to add another dimension to your story, though. They can also peacefully co-exist each serving their respective clients, each simply capitalizing on that which the other is incapable or not desirous of doing.


June 09, 2008

Can You Really Afford To Bash The 'Millennial' Lawyer?

(This is a little long but worthwhile :-)

There has been much discussion recently about the Millennial in the workforce and particularly in law firms.  I need to weigh in because I feel differently then those in the legal community who have been quite vocal about their disdain for what is being called the 'Slackeoisie.'  While I immensely respect the writers of What About Clients? and the prolific Scott Greenfield, I view this generation differently then they do.  (And as 60 minutes portrays here.)

Maybe it's because, even though I'm two generations removed from a millennial, I understand some of what they feel. I don't believe the mindset of the Millennial is a new one. I think in large part they just harbor more entrepreneurial drive then previous generations....and I get entrepreneurial.  They are not willing to put off starting their dreams. They are certainly less inclined to sacrifice unless their career goal is attainable within a relatively reasonable period of time. They don't see their world segmented - work life in one corner and personal life in the other.  They just see 'life.' And there is a stronger belief in one's self but it has been nurtured on a fast food mentality.  They are simply in the fast lane 24/7.  It's saying 'no' to the old model.  And it is by saying 'no' some interpret them as arrogant, disrespectful and dismissive of those who did work within the old model to get where they are today.  I believe this is what irks those who have trudged the traditional path....barefoot through 10 feet of snow...to school...without a winter coat.  We can't be mad at an entire generation because they don't want to play by the rules most of us felt we had to abide by.

Of course, there is much more (positive and negative about this generation) that can be (in)appropriately broad-brushed.  Yet, as in any generation there are those who are driven to achieve who have a strong work ethic and those who are slackers.  But for some reason, this generation is really getting slammed.  I believe it is unfair.

What role has corporate America (you and me) played in this?  Let's see.  These kids grew up:

  • watching their parents slave away at jobs only to be laid off over and over, again,
  • lose their pensions and health benefits to criminals like Enron;
  • watching corporate America outsource their jobs overseas;
  • seeing a corporate culture change from one where employees were valued and shown appreciation to a culture of poor treatment and being told they should be grateful to have any job;
  • being told if they didn't like 'any job' there's ten more people who look just like them lining up to take their place. 

The days of feeling proud for having given all your working life to one company and getting the gold watch and retirement dinner have disappeared. Today's young worker sees working for another based upon the old model as indentured servitude with no realistic brass ring and they want no part of it.  This is especially true after being told over and over again that their generation will be the first generation to not do as well as their parents.  Now there's an exciting future to consider as they carry $100,000 + in student loans. 

So, if they want to do an end run around the old model because they think it's broken can we really fault them?  If they want to look up at the sky and see endless possibilities of their own creation rather than the big round butt of a manager who blocks their innovation and creativity can we blame them?  If they want to try and figure out a new and better way that works for them should we tell them they're wrong and publicly ridicule them for trying?  Who are we to say what is best for them? Now who's being arrogant, disrespectful and dismissive?  What I have heard over and over, again, from clients and others is, "I wish I hadn't been so scared?  I wish I had their guts."

Bravery, stupidity...call it what you will.  But those brave or stupid people created Google, Zappos, Amazon and so much more than we could ever have anticipated because they DIDN'T follow the traditional models (all driven on customer service and regard for their employees, mmmmmm).

And for those who are in management at law firms, have you ever heard of 'internal marketing?'  It is a wonderful phrase coined by Sybil Sterchik who discusses the concept during an interview with Toby Bloomberg at the very popular Diva Marketing Blog.  She says that when you value your employees, your employees value your customers. 

Internal Marketing is a strategic blend of marketing and human resources focused on taking care of employees so they can take care of customers. While that still sounds warm & fuzzy, nonetheless it’s critical because if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers!

Appreciation, involvement in the process, being part of a company's dialog and success, the creation of a community, translates into loyalty by the employee and profits to the company. 

And this is not a new concept.  It is a forgotten concept,  I know because I experienced it in the companies I worked for in the 80's. I worked at not one, but two, companies who had office happy hours every Friday afternoon hosted by the president.  One company president drove his motorcycle through the company offices giving employees rides.  This same company handed out turkeys to every employee at Thanksgiving, held birthday parties for each employee.  Ten year anniversaries were celebrated with a one week trip to London and a stay at their corporate apartment with show tickets.  Was this a small private company?   One was small.  The other was the U.S. headquarters for an international corporation where I worked for 3 years.  This was a time before executives took $50 million dollar bonuses while telling their employees the company can't afford to give COLA raises while simultaneously reducing their health benefits. When I left the company with the motorcycle-riding president, it was the only time I actually grieved for 'family" because the company invested in creating a culture within the workplace...a culture the employees didn't want to leave.

And I believe the companies I worked for are being described by Ms. Sterchik when she states:

I find it ironic that many companies who do Internal Marketing well aren’t necessarily aware that they’re using Internal Marketing. These are companies with a workplace culture and operations committed to the value of both customers AND employees.

If a company who has employees really believes they can skip this step and retain employees, either they are paying their employees so well they can't afford to leave or they are deluding themselves.

Despite different generational attitudes in the workplace, companies will still need to engage their employees. And that’s where Internal Marketing comes in – enabling organizations to communicate and reinforce a sense of common purpose, a sense of belonging, and a sense of being part of something special, particularly in workplace that’s becoming increasingly insular. Internal Marketing will continue to be relevant as a ‘high touch’ people-centered management approach in a ‘high tech’ world.

So, you see this isn't a generational mandate unique to the Millennial.  This is just good business.

This new generation can't work within an environment which does not respect their goals and values, a management hierarchy which can't conceive of, never mind nurture, a new way of doing things which actually benefits the company and the clients foremost, If law firm managers, even solos looking to hire an associate choose not to recognize this but, instead, behave antagonistically, then they are going to lose the talent they have and certainly not attract new talent.  If this talent strikes out on their own without regrets why are the law firms so mad?  Why should these new lawyers have to take 20 years to figure out they don't want to waste their time at that law firm?  There is 'paying your dues' and then there is selling your soul.  This generation didn't create disloyalty.  It was the previous generation of employers who were disloyal and dishonest and gave this new generation permission to say, 'screw you.'

So, there are some mea culpas to be made by employers.  There are some steps they have to take to create environments to attract today's young worker.  Today's generation is suspicious and self-serving because they've learned no one is going to look out for their best interests better than themselves (or their parents.)

This generation grew up (and is continuing to grow up) connected to a vibrant and diverse community through technology and they can no more leave this connectivity when in the workplace then they can leave their left arm.

Employers should capitalize on this connectivity and the freedom they, too, can experience released from the confines of the 9-5 workday and sterile cubicle and harness the additional strengths of the millennial worker instead of straitjacketing them.  And when there is a strong work community it mitigates the needs for a rigid caste system. The caste system is dead..at least for this generation.

And that is why I believe, more and more lawyers will strike out on their own.  Millennials will be more inclined to pursue their entrepreneurial bend, especially in the law.  And you will see those who have worked so hard within the current system who get the boot or are not rewarded in ways which are meaningful to them more inclined to become solo practitioners.

Then consider the economic times we are facing.  In a time of uncertainty, the direction this world is going, extraordinary debt, health care in crisis, global warming, endless war...there is a certain 'live for the moment' feeling which propels them to say, 'if this isn't working for me, I'm outta here.'  They don't just say, "time is precious."  They live and work knowing time is precious.

Rigidity and lack of consideration for the mindset of this generation is a recipe for economic disaster for businesses of all stripes. Law firms are definitely not immune.

As a solo, there may come a time when you may choose to bring on an associate.  Remember this.  And remember why you chose to go solo, the freedom to control your own time, your own destiny. You realized you'd rather be responsible for your own financial security and you have faith in your abilities to do this.  And when you made (or make) the decision to go solo didn't you, regardless if you are a Baby Boomer, Gen X or Gen Y, basically say the very same thing?  I think the phrase was 'screw you.' :-)

May 26, 2008

When BigLaw Marketing Falls On Its BigLaw Face

I picked up a legal paper this week and saw the following advertisement:

Marketing Manager

50-Attorney Firm seeks marketing manager.  This is the senior marketing position in the firm.  Legal or other professional services experience preferred but not required. Full job description is at (website).

I went to the their website.  First, I accidentally transposed two vowels (very common given their name) and I landed on a 'typosquatted' site. (What domains did they purchase?  And if they purchased the URL to avoid typosquatters, why didn't they have the URL automatically forwarded to the operational site? In addition, the site looks like a business site although it is filled with advertising so one might believe it is the actual site.  When the reader realizes it is difficult to find what they want...I'm sure they move on.) Does this law firm really understand about the importance of their internet presence and their need to invest in this to protect themselves?

Then, when I got the law firm name right, what did I find (50 attorney firm, mind you)? The website itself had to have been designed by a not so good designer from last century, difficult to navigate, poorly written with small font size with none of the latest technology and extremely impersonal.  This site was clearly an afterthought because someone convinced them they should do something on the internet. They may be very good at what they do but based upon their web presence you would never know it...nor be inclined to find out.

And they certainly had no blogs.

I felt so bad for them that they could be so poorly represented on the internet (I really did!), I actually contemplated calling them just to give them some free advice.  Then I realized....if there is an independent marketing consultant/firm who works with firms of this size and is capable of converting them from the idea of an in-house marketing manager to outside assistance....e-mail me. The ad appeared just last week so it's fair to say 'the early bird....'  Let's talk.

February 26, 2008

More Female Attorneys Hanging Shingles for the Benefits of Solo Practice

Increasing numbers of female attorneys are declaring their independence.

Several women have hung out shingles in Sauk County in recent years. They left established firms to start solo practices, taking a financial risk in search of flexible schedules and decision-making authority.

Sandra Cardo Gorsuch was a pioneer, starting a solo practice in Reedsburg 12 years ago. Now she takes the cases she finds rewarding — primarily family law, real estate and probate — and turns down the types of personal injury cases her former firm once assigned.

"I enjoy the ability to make my own decisions about what I do and don't do," Gorsuch said. "I can pick the clients I want to take."

A desire for autonomy played a role in Nancy Thome's decision to launch a practice in Baraboo a year ago after a dozen years working at firms. As a mother of two small children, she also sought a flexible schedule that would allow her to attend school events or stay home when they fall ill.

You can read more here on these Wisconsin female solos.

January 07, 2008

The "Falling-Down" Profession?

The New York Times (excerpts)
January 6, 2008
The Falling-Down Professions
By ALEX WILLIAMS

YOU can’t say law firms aren’t trying.

At the Chicago office of Perkins Coie, partners recently unveiled a “happiness committee,” offering candy apples and milkshakes to brighten the long and wearying days of its lawyers. Perhaps this will serve as an example to other firms, which studies show lose, on average, nearly a fifth of their associates in any given year, in an industry in which about 20 percent of lawyers over all will suffer depression at some point in their careers.

Last year, Cravath, Swaine & Moore tried a more direct approach, offering associates an added bonus of as much as $50,000, on top of regular annual bonuses that range from $35,000 to $60,000.

At the august Sullivan & Cromwell, partners in 2006 began a program, groundbreaking in white-shoe firms, encouraging the uttering of “thank you” and “good work” to harried underlings, as reported in The Wall Street Journal.

Probably not a bad move at a firm that had been hemorrhaging associates at a rate of about 30 percent a year. (The rate dipped below 25 percent in the year after the program was started, although Fred Rich, a partner, said better etiquette was simply an element in a “very broad agenda” focused on more open communication.)

*****************
“The older professions are great, they’re wonderful,” said Richard Florida, the author of “The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life” (Basic Books, 2003). “But they’ve lost their allure, their status. And it isn’t about money.”

OR at least, it is not all about money. The pay is still good (sometimes very good), and the in-laws aren’t exactly complaining. Still, something is missing, say many doctors, lawyers and career experts: the old sense of purpose, of respect, of living at the center of American society and embodying its definition of “success.”

In a culture that prizes risk and outsize reward — where professional heroes are college dropouts with billion-dollar Web sites — some doctors and lawyers feel they have slipped a notch in social status, drifting toward the safe-and-staid realm of dentists and accountants. It’s not just because the professions have changed, but also because the standards of what makes a prestigious career have changed.

This decline, Mr. Florida argued, is rooted in a broader shift in definitions of success, essentially, a realignment of the pillars. Especially among young people, professional status is now inextricably linked to ideas of flexibility and creativity, concepts alien to seemingly everyone but art students even a generation ago.

“There used to be this idea of having a separate work self and home self,” he said. “Now they just want to be themselves. It’s almost as if they’re interviewing places to see if they fit them.”

Indeed, applications to law schools and medical schools have declined from recent highs. Nationally, the number of law school applicants dropped to 83,500 in 2006 from 98,700 in 2004—representing a 6.7 percent drop between 2006 and 2005, on top of the 5.2 percent slip the previous year, according to the Law School Admission Council.

(Maybe they’ve been talking to actual lawyers. Forty-four percent of lawyers recently surveyed by the American Bar Association said they would not recommend the profession to a young person.)

The number of applicants to medical school, meanwhile, has dipped to 42,000 from 46,000 in 1997, although it has recovered from a low of 33,000 in 2003.

Students are focusing now on starring in their own creations, their own start-up businesses, said Trudy Steinfeld, the executive director of the Wasserman Center for Career Development at New York University.

“There’s a sexiness to starting something cool,” she said. “Now we have people trying to start a Facebook or a MySpace. You might be working like a maniac, but it’s going to pay off in status. You’re going to be famous, providing something people are going to know and use all over the world.”

Unquestionably, many doctors and lawyers still find the higher calling of their profession — helping people — as well as the prestige and money, worth the hard work. And the stars in either field are still that: commanding the handsome compensation and social cachet. But to others, the daily trudge serves as a constant reminder that the entrepreneur’s autonomy simply can’t be found in law or medicine.

“We’d all seen the visions, watching ‘L.A. Law,’ or ‘Ally McBeal,’” said Catherine Kersh, 32, a former litigator at a large firm in Los Angeles. “It did seem glamorous.”

Reality, she quickly learned, was different. Ms. Kersh recalled a two-week stretch in which she and a team of associates were holed up in a conference room with 50 boxes of documents. Every day, for 12 hours, they fastened Post-it notes to legal briefs.

“You look around at the other associates, trying to remind ourselves, why did we go to law school?” said Ms. Kersh, who now works for a nonprofit group that administers scholarships.

Many young associates, she added, spent their lunch hours making lavish purchases on NeimanMarcus.com, just to remind themselves that what they did counted for something.

Life, in fact, was less like “Ally” and more like “The Practice,” where lawyers work like dogs in a thoroughly unglamorous setting.

Nor does hard work guarantee success. “With law firms merging, fewer people are making partner,” said Carolyn Elefant, a lawyer in Washington who writes for Law.com, a legal news and information Web site.

In 2005, the number of equity partners at law firms grew by 2.5 percent, compared with 4.5 percent five years earlier, according to a study by Citi Private Bank. And even if you make partner, the work doesn’t lessen.

“Partners now are often billing as many hours as the associates, because of the enormous growth of law firms,” Ms. Elefant said. “There’s a huge overhead. The demand for global practice means many partners having to be available to clients around the clock.”

As firms demand ever more billable hours, said Lawrence J. Fox, a partner in the Philadelphia office of Drinker Biddle & Reath, lawyers find less time for pro bono work — the very thing that once gave them a sense of higher calling. Increased competitive pressures also mean that young associates are often locked into arcane sub-specialties, like pharmaceutical product liability.

*************.

“If the topic comes up in cocktail party talk, you’ll hear nightmare stories from people as they’ve gone through the system — ‘they gave me the wrong pill,’ et cetera,” said Dr. Gregg Broffman, 57, a former pediatrician who is now a medical director of a primary care group in Buffalo. “In terms of my own self-esteem, it feels like a personal attack.”

EVEN the language of contemporary medicine has eroded the physician’s sense of majesty.

“What irritates me the most is the use of the term ‘provider,’” said Dr. Brian A. Meltzer, an internist in Pennington, N.J., who now practices pro bono on the side, but works full time for Johnson & Johnson’s venture capital division. “We didn’t go to provider school.”

Making the erosion of cachet more acute is the fact that unlike law schools or medical schools, flashier industries recruit heavily on top college campuses, said Lauren A. Rivera, a sociology graduate student and an instructor at Harvard who studies career choice among students.

“Investment banking and consulting firms have a huge presence; they’re barging in from before first day of classes,” Ms. Rivera said. “The messages they convey appeals to every undergraduate fantasy: this is a continuation of prestige education, this is the only valuable way to finish your education. You’ll work with the smartest people and the most exciting, high-profile clients.”

And then there is, yes, the money issue. Or rather, money envy. Associates at major New York firms often start at $150,000 to $180,000, said Bill Coleman, the chief compensation officer at Salary.com, a company that tracks income statistics. Partners at the country’s biggest 100 firms took home an average of $1.2 million in 2006, according to American Lawyer.

Hardly small sums, but for many senior investment bankers, bonuses and salaries this year will average $2.25 million to $2.75 million, according to Options Group, an executive search and consulting firm.

************
The professions still largely award income in the traditional sense — a set, orderly progression, over the course of decades. Careers in more entrepreneurial industries like hedge funds and private equity firms follow the sky-is-the-limit model of the entertainment industry, the Web or professional sports.

Kevin J. Delaney, a sociology professor at Temple University who has studied the culture of hedge funds and private equity firms, said executives there “love the idea of being responsible for their own fate.”

They’re going to make a million or lose a million based on the trades they make,” he said.

Many firms are so small, he added, that “you go there, it’s one floor, and 10 people sitting around the room, six of them making millions of dollars.”

This star-system mentality is particularly attractive to college students, many of whom were reared with the ’80s philosophy that every child was a potential superstar, Mr. Coleman said. And they want immediate rewards — not exactly the mentality that will fuel a student through years of medical school, a residency and additional training for a specialty.

“Their attention span, everything, is instant feedback: quick, quick, quick,” Mr. Coleman said. “Apprenticeship, these kids don’t want to do it.”

First,  if you read closely the work dissatisfaction discussed is the BigLaw component.  The quote which discusses the need to mesh personal and professional life, the idea of making sure the environment fits the personality of the individual....these are sought after and achieved for the most part by solos. Entrepreneurship, creativity, flexibility are prized.  Starring in their own creation is coveted.  This is the number on perk of becoming a solo.

So, Is it the profession or BigLaw?  There is still the seeming loss of prestige being experienced by lawyers associated with BigLaw, the push towards commoditization of the services, loss of cache and regard and the pittance they earn (1.2 million) which is just half the bonus received by hedge fund superstars.

If money is the objective and the yard stick is hedge fund managers and garage entrepreneurs, chalk one up in the loss column for BigLaw partners.  I have no sympathy, though.  BigLaw is a business model which broke itself but unfortunately it broke the spirit of those in the trenches, too.  Many lawyers railed against the students from the top law schools who wrote a letter to BigLaw saying they want a better quality of work life and living.  They were criticized for being ungrateful.  Weren't they just saying they don't deem the old ideals and traditional career paths important?  Were lawyers offended because these new lawyers didn't honor the old guard and what they suffered to achieve partner?  I don't know.  But it seems to me BigLaw has done a great job of stripping itself of dignity, cache and status by their own actions.  They projected a certain ugliness themselves. Let's not blame those who just point it out and refuse to participate. (And let's not broad brush, either. There are some very happy BigLaw partners and associates who do not project a distressing image and are quite happy with their financial and social lot in life.)

Solos, well, they don't have these issues.  They decide their work life, income and definition of success and I know some damn fine solos/small firms who could take down those hedge fund managers!  I really do.

Links of Interest:

Move over Gen X - The New Wave of Lawyer(s) Has Arrived?

January 03, 2008

The Billable Hour Bash-a-thon Continues Courtesy of Slate

This article was forwarded to me by a reader known as Blueb73.  Author Lisa Lerer of Slate Magazine writes a compelling piece called How to Kill the Law Firm Billable Hour in which she states the following:

The criticisms lobbed by academics, associates, and bloggers have had a negligible impact. Making such a significant change takes a more powerful force in law firm life: the client. And now, finally, the companies that pay millions in hourly rates are striking back, forcing their law firms to cut some tough, nonhourly fee deals. If anyone can tame the billable beast, it's the clients who feed it.

She further describes what she believes to be the future of law firm culture:

If this is the future of the legal world, then the business will eventually spilt into three fairly autonomous markets. The top end of the spectrum will remain largely unchanged. Companies will still pay hourly rates to hire white-shoe law firms for specialized, bet-your-company kinds of work. On the opposite end, however, clients will stop taking their rote legal work to law firms altogether. Companies already outsource relatively simple matters like document review to consulting services. And as technology improves, more programs will let companies handle their own contracts online.

In the murky middle between one-of-a-kind advice and dime-a-dozen contracts, the push for alternative arrangements will prevail. Cisco, for example, already pays a fixed fee to law firms for filing patents at the Patent and Trademark Office. The firm's total charge must decrease by at least 5 percent each year, as a firm becomes more efficient; if not, it is replaced with a smaller one willing to take the work.

Solos, take note.  Where will you fit into this structure and how will you capitalize on the opportunity presenting itself.

Links of Interest:

The Billable Hour "Cockroach" is Being Extinguished

The Cockroach of the Legal Profession - The Billable Hour

November 18, 2007

Law Students Want One Thing - U.S. News & World Report Wants Another - Law Schools Care More About US News

According to a recent study: (As reported by ABA Journal On Line)

Law students care about factors that aren’t considered or aren’t influential in the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings, according to a survey by The National Jurist.

The top factors named by law students were quality of teaching, bar passage rate, placement rate at nine months, practical skills training and faculty-student relations. But U.S. News doesn’t consider quality of teaching, practical skills training or faculty-student relations, while bar passage rate and placement have low importance in the U.S. News rankings.

In U.S. News, reputation among law professors and deans accounts for 25 percent of a law school’s rank, while reputation by judges and lawyers accounts for 15 percent. That is followed by placement rate at nine months after graduation (14 percent), median LSAT scores (12.5 percent) and undergrad GPA (10 percent).

The National Jurist quoted a study by Theodore Seto, a tax law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. His findings suggest that the rankings can be fickle. He says law schools can affect their rank by placing more emphasis on placement rate and GPA factors.

If you are wondering why your law school doesn't or didn't have a law office management class that can teach you how to actually function as a lawyer in solo practice this is the reason.  It doesn't rank with U.S. News and World Report.  Training you to actually be a lawyer doesn't fulfill their mission.  Nor does the quality of the teaching or whether or not your school has a high bar passage rate.   What does matter is your G.P.A. at entrance and the reputation of the professors (read: are they published)?

How does this help the law student who wants to go solo?  How does this help any law student.

I have friends in academia at a few law schools, little birdies who tell me the inside scoop on why law office management classes, practical skills classes with value to new students on the 'how to's,'  are not being offered.  Why? Because they dilute classrooms and draw students away from doctrinal electives.  If students have the option to take an elective practical skills course which is usually taught by an adjunct, a practicing attorney, they will opt for this rather than a doctrinal elective taught by a tenured professor.  If a tenured professor's class does not get taken, the class must be cancelled but the tenured professor is still paid.  And this tenured professor is teaching a class academia feels 'ought' to be taken by the students over a practical skills course, an overpraid tenured professor (compared to an adjunct) with 'reputation' that ranks with U.S. News & World Report.  Solution?  Just get rid of the practical skills course and the students will have nothing else to register for to meet their credit requirements but the doctrinal elective.  Problem solved.

Now, I'm not saying there aren't many excellent professors who care about their students, have a profound love of the law and enrich their students education immensely.  They, too, are under pressure to publish and build reputation for the sake of keeping their job and securing tenure.  But what rankles me is all of this is in pursuit of an artificial ranking?  It is not about the paying customer, the student.  So, students come out ill-prepared for actually functioning as a lawyer, fighting for limited high paying jobs saddled with back-breaking debt.  Is it any wonder 50% of all lawyers leave the profession? Or why law school admissions are dropping? (Some would argue this isn't a bad thing...fewer lawyers, etc.)

But imagine a law school which paid attention to it's paying customers, the students.  Created an educational experience comprised of doctrinal and practical skills classes in proper balance and at a fair price.  This school would have so many high caliber students they wouldn't have to artificially decrease the admitting class size to raise entering students' G.P.A's.  Or produce fewer graduates to have what appears then to be a higher placement statistic. The employers at their job fairs would actually want them and not dread another graduating class who know very little. Whether looking to be employed by another or to strike out on their own, these students would be well prepared and a credit to the profession. 

Well, if you are a frequent reader of this blog chances are you have the entrepreneurial spirit.  Would this imaginary law school's curriculum have appealed to you?  Or did you get the education you wanted at your law school and for a price you could deal with?  How much did U.S. News & World Report influence your choice of school? Inquiring minds want to know.

November 13, 2007

A Lawyer in Every Stop & Shop?

In part four of Richard Susskind's series on the Law Firm of the Future he discusses the impact of non-lawyer investors in law firms and the reality the majority of potential clients wants to commoditize the law: (this excerpt is a reaction to a seminar on the subject.)

I discovered that the value of the market for consumer-based legal services in England was thought to be over £10 billion. I learned of market research that reported 60 per cent of citizens would prefer to obtain legal services from common high street brands (supermarkets and banks, for example) than from solicitors in private practice. It was concluded that at least £6 billion worth of consumer-based legal services were up for grabs.

Only a very few of the delegates were lawyers. Most were representatives of these high street behemoths whose remit now seems to know no boundaries. These individuals were not committed to the ways of the past. They were talking about call centres, outsourcing to India, online legal services, the automatic generation of documents, and more.

I thought then, with complete conviction, that the delivery of legal services will be a very different business when financed and managed by non-lawyers."

The new wave of investors and managers will surely find that individual law firms are over-resourced; and, further, that the legal profession itself is over-resourced. They will quickly recognise that, within and beyond law firms, there is enormous duplication of effort and reinvention of the wheel; and, in turn, that there are too many lawyers and too few smart systems.

know that clients of such firms are increasingly dissatisfied with the level of fees that they pay, that they are under pressure themselves to reduce their legal spend and that they are pushing for much greater efficiency. Their attention is focused not only on the discrete high volume work. They are also looking at decomposing high value, big ticket deals and disputes and identifying what parts of these legal matters can be carried out more efficiently.

And with $40 billion currently being spent each year on the top 100 US law firms alone, there is likely to be some scope for a saving or two.

The major firms may feel they are beyond the scope of commoditisation and systematisation and that, on bet-the-ranch deals and disputes the legal fees represent but pocket change in the grand scheme. But this is not the attitude I find amongst the general counsel of some of the world’s largest organisations.

These managers are under pressure to reduce their legal budget. And these clients’ loyalty to conventional firms will be limited if new legal businesses emerge that offer quicker, more convenient, lower cost alternatives to low- and high-value work that seem to be more geared to the interests of clients and are more business-like in their constitution.

Anybody else see the writing on the wall?  Non-lawyer investors looking to turn a profit peddling legal services on a retail level; the consumers wanting the commoditization of legal services..(.'how about a will with your Dunkin' Donuts coffee?')  Is it really that farfetched?  I think not.

So, how does the solo capitalize on this trend?

You can read the first three excerpts here.