On this week’s The Law Entrepreneur podcast, host Neil Tyra and his guest, practicing attorney and Great Legal Marketer Ben Glass had an interesting discussion about the ABA Task Force Report on The Path to Lawyer Wellbeing, released in August 2017. At the time the report issued, I’d thought that it was a relatively innocuous, state-the-obvious piece of work — discussing problems like stress, lack of civility, substance abuse, and depression in the legal profession, and trotting out the stock solutions — supporting bar assistance programs, encouraging civility, and making all members of the profession “stakeholders” in dealing with this crisis.
But Glass had another, more critical take, at least inasmuch as solos and smalls are concerned. Ben argued that the ABA Report misses the boat by failing to address the underlying reason that solo and small firm lawyers are so stressed out: they’re time-strapped and living paycheck to paycheck. From Ben’s perspective, the ABA and other bar associations need to teach lawyers (1) to systematize their firms so that they operate “law-omatically” without constant oversight and (2) to learn how to market their practices in ways other than showing up at a lawyer networking event to bring in quality clients and boost revenues. In short, more money and more time will do far more to relieve the stress that solo and small firm lawyers experience rather than the ABA Report’s touchy-feely suggestions. And once you get rich, you can take on all the pro bono work you want.
So is Glass right? Will more money, more systems and more time make more solos happy? The formula seems so easy: (1) pick a focused practice area and market it through online platforms, social media, and offering free substantive resources, (2) automate client intake and on boarding to service all those clients who come through your marketing, (3) hire and train “A Team players” who can do the work that you don’t want to handle. Then repeat. Is that all it takes?
Another school of thought on business development contends that entrepreneurs should start with the why rather than the how. (Believe it or not, that philosophy is a riff on Nietzsche who famously wrote that “He who has a why to live for can bear any how). In other words, success comes from starting with an inspiration or mission and once you’ve found that, the “how” will come.
I made this same observation about the success of Google’s founders in this post. Back in 1999, before Google was GOOGLE, its founders had a lofty but academic goal: to become the most comprehensive, accurate search tool in the world. It wasn’t until after they’d created the site and it was in use that Google ads, the revenue engine behind Google was born — and the rest is history. In other words, if you work at what you love, you will find a way to make money at it.
Whichever approach makes more sense — starting with the nuts and bolts as Glass suggests, or the big picture, either approach is more effective than taking civility classes or sitting around at stakeholder meetings, plotting how lawyers should all just get along.
Carolyn Elefant has been blogging about solo and small firm practice at MyShingle.comsince 2002 and operated her firm, the Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant PLLC, even longer than that. She’s also authored a bunch of books on topics like starting a law practice, social media, and 21st century lawyer representation agreements (affiliate links). If you’re really that interested in learning more about Carolyn, just Google her. The Internet never lies, right? You can contact Carolyn by email at firstname.lastname@example.org follow her on Twitter at @carolynelefant.