I recently wrote a letter to Virginia's Lawyers Weekly in response to their article "Culture Change Needed." Without a doubt, lawyers are under intense pressure and stress that leads to an unhappy work environment and poor health. I strongly encourage everyone to read the full report of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which can be easily found and downloaded from the Internet. However, the article completely ignored a prime reason for attorney stress and discontent, the inability to actually build and run a profitable business.
For solo and small firm lawyers, one can achieve happiness, health, and wealth when they figure out some important things for themselves. For example, what their purpose in life is, what legal work fulfills them, why they deserve to be noticed in the market. They then need to learn to master general business principles like marketing for clients and cases that interest them, and creating systems that allow much of the practice of law to “run itself.”
Mastering these principles frees up the lawyer to think about how to develop a firm culture that embodies that of the owner so that everyone is sailing in the right direction. They also need to learn how to hire and fire to create a team that can deliver a terrific customer experience, how to manage money in a way that won’t leave the firm high and dry, and how to create a base of raving fans who will evangelize for the firm. These systems eliminate the need for traditional (and expensive) advertising.
Some of the best (and least stressful) practices in the country are run by lawyers who routinely look at what other great (non-legal) businesses do to get and keep customers and say “how can I borrow those good ideas and use them in my law practice?”
Get these skills down, and you can be happy with your practice and your life.
Regrettably, while lawyers can get CLE credit for attending seminars on topics that have absolutely nothing to do with their chosen practice areas, no credit can be obtained for a course which “primarily focuses on marketing techniques, client development or other general business topics applicable to any business.” (MCLE Reg. 103(c)(1)).
Sorry but this is just dumb.
True culture change in Virginia will come only when there is recognition that general business building skills are at least as important as those necessary for the actual delivery of legal services. After all the “best” lawyer is no good if he/she can’t turn the lights on.