Conferences / Symposia, Practice Pointers, Small Law Firms, Technology

The Practice: The Future of Law, Circa 1972

I’m often tagged as someone who hates young lawyers. I write about the whiners, the entitled, the ones who buy in to the notion that a law practice is a little square box with cool apps. Because I am critical of some, the narrow-minded tunnel vision types that troll the internet have assured themselves that I, in fact, hate all young lawyers.

None of these people were at the seminar I hosted last week for young lawyers interested in building, growing, and managing a private practice. Because I hate all young lawyers, I took a day and a half away from my practice to host a seminar, buy a few drinks, and help out a few that couldn’t afford to go.

The seminar was a mix of topics. Yes, there was tech — two hours, in fact. One hour on toys and apps, and one on internet marketing. We had a panel of women giving advice to women looking to build a private practice, and we had a panel to discuss the issues facing niche practitioners.

Casey Anthony defense lawyer Jose Baez spoke on how a high profile case can affect a lawyer’s practice. You know, high profile cases are always super awesome. Jose is now getting lots of calls, signing lots of autographs, and trying to recoup his life savings and resolve the foreclosure of his home. His new baby, a baby that was born in a hospital where his wife had to sneak in a back door and use an alias to keep the media and angry mobs away, is doing great.

The crowd was a mix — some experienced lawyers wanting to revamp their marketing or try a new software program — but mostly young lawyers, those that the hucksters and scammers try to convince the future of law is mostly virtual, and nothing like it was just a few years ago. I still laugh at those that don’t realize those touting “the future of law” are trying to sell their vision of “the future.” They don’t know what the future will bring, they just know that they need to make money, and just like fortune tellers, if they can convince you their “future” is reality, you’ll pay. Idiots….

But with the full schedule of marketing experts, internet CEOs, and 12 real live practicing lawyers, the one speaker that generated the most interest was a lawyer practicing since 1972. To show you my math prowess, that’s 40 years. The discussion went way over time, and could have gone on much longer.

He started with this: “There are no shortcuts.”

How many marketers will tell you that?

Then he killed the tech hacks: “Nothing has been invented that makes the effort any easier.”

I know, you’re thinking, “Perhaps he hasn’t seen the iPad Mini?”

Get ready to dry your eyes, there’s more:

“Keep studying your craft.”

“Find a mentor whom you admire and shadow them. Ask a million questions early on.”

“Never be unrealistically optimistic to get the case.”

This isn’t a post about the overvalued tech and SEO advice for lawyers, it’s about where you get your advice. Nonetheless, he never mentioned Google, and he never told the crowd what type of cell phone he uses. He did say he likes email and uses it — not to spam people with all his success — but to communicate with clients and referral sources.

The crowd of mostly young lawyers had a lot of questions. It was fascinating to watch. They were interested to know what this — what the future of law types call a “dinosaur” — thought about building a practice. He talked about good retainer agreements, and about how he handles relationships with other lawyers, with opposing counsel, and with the people he interacts with on a daily basis. He writes letters, says “thank you,” gets involved in organizations (still), mentors young lawyers, prepares his cases, and always remembers that the clients are why he has been successful. He talked about how he refers clients to other lawyers when they can’t afford him, and how that has made him a ton of money.

It was 100 percent old school, the type of stuff that often gets the hysterical responses on the internet of, “But that’s not how it’s done today,” or, “We can’t build a practice like that anymore, we have to be slaves to the Google God.”

He ended his presentation with one word: “reputation.” He said it was all that mattered. What perfected the message was that he spoke first. The rest of the day, the young lawyers listened to the marketing and tech presentations while remembering that these tools can just as easily enhance as hurt your reputation. For the rest of the day, everything came back to that one word, “reputation.”

It was a refreshing 90 minutes to start the day, not only to hear the advice, but to watch the young lawyers absorb it. Throughout the day the other speakers — the tech guy, the web guy — referred back to him and what he said. They have the shortcuts, they have the things to reduce the effort, but they too were repeating his advice, that it all starts with reputation. Even the web guy told the crowd, “If your marketing is based on getting to be number one on Google, you have failed at marketing.”

And so for one day, in one hotel ballroom, a group of young lawyers learned that more important than learning how to point and click and scan and download, was learning that none of it matters if your reputation sucks. And they learned it from a dinosaur. They still roam the legal profession — I’d look for a few.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

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