Practice Pointers, Small Law Firms

The Practice: What Makes You More Money, The Past or The Future?

Two factions of the legal profession seem louder than the others — those wallowing in the past, the ones spending their days blaming their law schools for forcing them to attend based on the promises of wealth and happiness, and those predicting the future of law who want you to believe that if you know now how the practice will be 10 or 20 or 500 years from now, it will help you today.

So tell me, which one has helped build your practice: whining about the past, or thinking about how things may be in the future?

I like to live in the present, while remembering the mistakes of my past and knowing that the future will eventually be here, and I may not.

But when I talk about the present, how I do things, how people I respect do things, I often hear that “those things don’t work anymore.” You haven’t tried “those things,” but because someone you don’t know seems to have the best crystal ball (at a reasonable price), they know better.

Most of you are looking to make money now, not in “the future of law,” and knowing that in reality, bitching about the past does nothing — even if you are delusional enough to think anyone cares….

I don’t have the ability to create an image that will cause you to pay me to tell you the future world of knowledge be able to tell you how you will make money when “the future of law” is here. I can predict that on that day, other scam artists people will be right there to tell you about the “new” future of law. I know that in the future there will be more things and more other things and new and cool things.

If you want to make money now, and you’re too stupid to realize that there’s plenty of ways to make money outside the law, including popping tags even if you only got $20 in your poc-ket, the first thing I’d do is learn something.

I know, you’re thinking, “But I have allowed the world to convince me that all I need is a law degree from my awesome school, stellar grades, and Bar admission.” Right, where has this gotten you?

Learn how to do something people need. No, don’t wait for someone to pay you what you think you deserve to do legal work — learn how to take a matter from start to finish. People need wills, they need counsel in simple divorces, they get traffic tickets. I know that all of this is beneath you, but for those of you whose egos aren’t in the stratosphere and understand that doing small things for people leads to big matters, I offer this advice.

Maybe if you learn something, then when you’re on that interview you finally got after sending out 300 résumés, you can tell the hiring partner that you’ve actually done something relevant other than try to convince others not to go to law school because yours lied to you.

Now I understand Biglaw won’t be impressed, and they’ll actually be petrified that you’ve had client contact. This advice is more for the people looking to actually practice law, not those looking for a closet to sit in while “earning” their $100K. Small firms and solos looking to hire will be more apt to take a second look at someone who has actually given legal advice, walked into a courtroom, drafted a document, taken a call from an angry client, and quoted a fee (even if it’s $100 because the Starbucks card was out of cash).

So where do you learn? Your State Bar has plenty of “Basic” CLE seminars out there, and I know, they cost money you don’t have. There’s always an excuse. Start a fund, order the tapes instead of attending, see what’s free out there. Maybe… read the statutes and rules of procedure (I’m just kidding). Just please don’t waste your money paying for some online snake oil.

If I were sitting across from a potential associate, I’d much rather hear that they were doing “something” than nothing. “Well, Mr. Tannebaum, I’m still pretty angry at my law school, so I spend most of my day anonymously commenting on blogs hoping to convince people not to go to law school, and I also hear that in 25 years I can practice from my toilet, so I’m waiting for that as well.”

If you’re going to take my advice and learn something, remember, the key is to be competent. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the legal work, get someone to help you. The estate planning lawyer you call to help you with a simple Will may just be looking for an associate or at least someone to send business she doesn’t want. No reason to be telling the State Bar at 26 years old why you screwed up the client’s case so badly.

This notion that the past and the future are things we should be spending a lot of time reading and thinking about is just garbage. No new advancement in tech or the way people hire lawyers is going to change the fact that people will always be looking for good lawyers to do needed legal work. Neither your horrible mean lying law school nor what may happen in the future is going to put money in your pocket now. Knowing how to help a client, will.

Or you can sit around and complain and wait for the future. You probably know what’s best for you.

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

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments