There is an old story that tells the tale of three stonemasons. A stranger walks up and asks the stonemasons what they are doing. The first stonemason pauses and says, “I’m making a living.” The second stonemason replies, “I am making the best stone work in the country.” The third stonemason stands up with a distant look in his eyes and says, “I am making a cathedral.”
The first stonemason is a worker bee. He is there to collect a paycheck, nothing more. It is unlikely he will ever find success without someone else’s direction — if he ever finds it at all. A low-level associate. Or doc reviewer. A emp worker. The second stonemason is a craftsman for sure, but lacking in the big picture of what he is doing. An associate. Perhaps a partner someday. The third stonemason is the man who understands the ultimate goal of what their enterprise is all about. He is the senior partner. The one who has clients. One with the will and drive to start his own firm….
Last week I wrote about a complaint I heard from a client after they had been billed for two bottles of water served to them by their former lawyers at a meeting. I got numerous emails from people saying it was one of the most shocking behaviors that they had ever heard, the lowest of the low — a lawyer billing a client for a bottle of water that they had given to the client. When I wrote about it, it was the most egregious thing I had ever heard that a lawyer had billed to their client. But as a lawyer I know often says, “Take your expectations, then put even lower. Try the gutter.”
Less than a week later, there’s something worse in the news. A lawyer got sanctioned for his incompetent representation — then billed the sanctions to the client….
It’s always interesting to have conversations with clients who have gone through multiple lawyers. Not the sort of clients who have gone lawyer shopping in the past, bouncing around looking for the lowest price, but rather the client who has had a relationship with a lawyer in the past and has decided to break away from that lawyer due to poor performance or bad customer service. Listening to clients who have severed relationships with other lawyers offers a glimpse into what is going on in the mind of clients and what they expect from the legal services they obtain.
One of the most egregious things I’ve heard lately from a client has to do with a couple of bottles of water….
One of the first realities that new lawyers come to confront as they graduate law school — whether it be on their own or within a firm — is that clients are the life blood of practice. No clients, no practice.
This often comes as a surprise to new lawyers. Despite the the glut of lawyers, declining legal industry, and overall economic malaise, many new lawyers still think that clients will magically appear once they have received their J.D. and passed the bar. A few months into practice, they are quickly dissuaded of this notion.
Instead, they learn that clients must be developed or found.
After attending a “meet and greet” dinner put on by our primary outside counsel recently, I was inspired to reflect on that sometimes tricky relationship.
There needs to be trust, but there needs to be distance too. A client perspective after the jump, but I’ve been on both sides, and I think it goes both ways. To all you outside counsel: enjoy your freedoms….
“A few years ago, a lawyer I know had to leave her hometown where she had lived most of her life and move cross country for family reasons. And because she loved her solo practice and the flexibility it afforded her as a mother, and since she is smart and confident, she decided to re-start her solo practice in the new city, thinking it would not be too difficult. But it proved to be much more challenging than she ever thought.”
“Back here, in her hometown where she knew everyone, clients were not hard to come by. In the new city however, she had a lot fewer contacts and even fewer potential clients. And given that back here she had not really had to work too hard to get business, she never really learned about marketing, so that too was new. Eventually, between the Not-So-Great Recession and the challenges of starting from scratch, she finally had to go to work for someone else.”
The article got me thinking: How much of an edge does a lawyer’s hometown — or college or law school town, for that matter — provide in starting a successful solo practice?
Once you have a lead on a potential client, the next step is to engage this individual or company in some way so that they decide to go with you and your firm for their legal matters. In some cases, you get a “slam dunk”, where they chat with you for a few minutes and it is a go. Other client engagements take a little more finessing, but at the end of the day, both you and the client are comfortable moving forward.
With others, the challenge is figuring out who is trying to get a freebie and just walk away with some free services and advice…
Conventional wisdom says that solos and smalls should join a bar association — either the American Bar Association, a state or local bar, or a practice-specific bar (such as an association of telecommunications or criminal defense or real estate lawyers) — as a way to generate clients. Here’s but one recent article that recommends pounding the pavement at bar events to find clients.
I’m not suggesting that solos and smalls steer clear of bar membership entirely; after all, bar associations provide a myriad of practice benefits, including substantive information on practice trends, affordable continuing legal education (CLE), and advice on starting and running a law practice. But if lawyers think that they’ll find business through bar membership, most are sure to be disappointed….
It would stand to reason that by virtue of graduating law school and passing a state’s bar, you would be able to start a law firm. You might print business cards, get some office space, tell your friends, and the clients would just start coming in.
It would certainly be nice if it worked that way, but it does not. Cultivating clients and client relationships is important, and the time needed to make this happen is a full-time gig in and of itself. While on a panel this past weekend at the Catapult Conference in San Francisco, several solo and small firm attorneys chimed in on what it takes to get clients when you are just starting out…
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