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November 01, 2011

Lawyers & Law Firms: We Still Need That "New Mind", My Friends.

Our thinking tends to circle around established conventions whose basis is forgotten or obscure. --Daniel Pinchbeck in The Return of Quetzalcoatl (2006)

Unless there is a new mind, there cannot be a new line; the old will go on repeating itself with recurring deadliness. --William Carlos Williams in Paterson (1948), Book 2, Sunday in the Park

Lawyers are world-class followers. We are members of just another insular dopey club.--WAC?

Okay, you get the idea. For all of this blog's well-known tangents, flaws, pet issues, quirks and prejudices, since 2005 we have been as constant, serious and relentless about one thing: ideas to change law practice and to put clients and lawyers on common ground. Available right here, right now, and free of charge, are different ways to deliver legal services to higher-end clients who, we are quite sure, have been getting shortchanged on value for decades--if not for centuries. See, from the categories set out on your right, these three topics: Clients: Getting Them, Clients: Keeping Them and Running Firms.

They are ideas any of you could have had--but we put them together, for whatever reasons, for you. For our part, we regret that we never had them and/or reported them until many years into practice. We delayed. We could have instituted and enforced at our own shop the techniques, rules and "habits" set out here in 20 years ago.

But we did not.

Reason: the vast majority of us lawyers have our heads way, way, way up our Wazoos. We think we're special--whether we do billion dollar deals or car accidents. And we are notoriously undisciplined and half-assed about the ways we do everything. We are so special. We still think that even at a time in American history when it is relatively easy for an average college student to become a lawyer.

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E and Elsa, circa 1915

Clients as the Main Event fell out of the equation eons ago. It is no longer the touchstone, a value, or an organizing principle. We've become members of just another goofy insular Western club, and we are for good reason laughed at behind our backs.

Add to this the problem that many of us (I think most) secretly dislike being lawyers. But it's not about us--it's "about clients"--and the happiest of us are hard-working and passionate about the Law and Service in one short happy synapse.

For those lucky lawyers, high quality but client-centric legal products have gone from good habits to instinct.

However, these days, especially, precisely many, many of the wrong people keep coming into the profession at all levels. And they stay in when they would be happier doing something else. We've written a lot about that, too. Paying clients--and in droves--are hurt by an "accepted mediocrity" every day.

More importantly, the current Recession--which at this point is about a click away from a Depression--really has made it clear to me, and others, that general counsel and lawyers inside the companies many of us covet are not going let any of us "return to the good old days".

Inside counsel. They are a smarter, bolder and better paid lot than they were when I started practicing in the 1980s. They see more big-picture things in the delivery of services by outside firms--and very few of them at the better client shops are checking with officers and directors about the right time to take lunch. They are stronger and more autonomous. And they include some very fine thinkers.

Lawyers, bless us, are valuable for the same instincts that hold us back. We like slow, and deliberate, change. We are cautious. In our own business models, perhaps we have been too risk-averse. But there has never been a better time in the history of markets, nations, the West, and the American free enterprise experiment for us to change.

Time to step up. Get in the game. One notion here: it's okay to be cautious with work for clients--but not okay anymore to be such staid robots and frightened myopic weenies about the running of our own businesses so that we can truly serve clients, be excellent, and make money.

The now-sputtering economy will drive some of this. Outside lawyers are about to become the servants we were always supposed to be. Still, truly dedicated and skillful lawyers (charitably, about 15 to 20% of us) will be in demand. But we can assume that new role and still make great money--and have lots of fun. Excuse me if that sounds anti-intellectual or pedestrian--but at my firm we are trying to have fun and make money doing what we love.

Anyway, we can fix all this. This blog has six years worth of ideas and techniques on advising and guiding clients without "feeding the monster". Feel free to browse through it critically--and tell us what you think. No "hiding" though--if you have something to say, tell us who you are.

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E and friends, New York City, 1921

Posted by JD Hull at November 1, 2011 12:59 AM

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