You have probably noted an ongoing “debate” on the topic of whether the practice of law is a business. Some lawyers argue that since we are a learned profession, we are not running businesses, nor should we. To those dinosaurs I say: Poppycock!
It speaks for itself that most of the lawyers who claim we are a highly educated profession and therefore not a business were either very successful in a specialty field or were professors of law. More power to them. But as for the rest of us, we are operating businesses. And if we don’t begin paying attention to how well we manage and promote our legal enterprises, we are in danger of going out of business as a profession.
If you don’t think the legal industry is a commercial enterprise, consider the following. We hire employees with related personnel issues. We have a payroll and pay payroll taxes. We pay rent or buy real estate. We have debt. We have (or should have) systems to operate our practice. We have partnership issues. We market ourselves. We have business plans. And we are regulated. What else is needed to convince lawyers this is a business?
In one sense, the question at this point is more or less a matter of semantics. Law is clearly a profession, but since you are selling a service, it is also clearly a business. The distinction is not only arbitrary, it is also a potential threat to our future livelihood.
In an even more urgent sense, this philosophical debate is impractical in the real world. The rest of the world is preparing to move ahead with or without us. The market place has already recognized the legal practice as a business and is proceeding accordingly. In fact, the entire legal field is viewed by many Venture Capitalists as fertile grounds for investment opportunities, but not necessarily by investing in law firms. Instead, Venture Capitalists (who are not interested in whether or not they are part of a profession but are interested in making money) are throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at legal technology startups.
The commoditization of the practice is already well underway. If you are curious about the inevitable outcome of this juggernaut, ask your doctor how his life has changed.
In this rapidly evolving environment, I hope we can agree that simply doing a great job for your existing clients is not going to be enough. If you expect to compete with the legal services companies that are growing under your nose, it’s time to get in the game as a business manager. And there are plenty of resources available.
Michael Gerber, author if the immensely popular book, “The E-Myth”, has written a version just for lawyers titled “The E-Myth Attorney: Why Most Legal Practices Don’t Work and What to Do About It.” In his book, Gerber points out that the secret to thriving is to operate like a business with systems in place and a comprehensive plan – a strategic plan – that focuses on your strengths and opportunities.
A great place to start is to set aside a specific chunk of non-law time dedicated exclusively to the administration and marketing of your law business. If you allot 30 to 40% of your time to developing and implementing a structured strategy for your organization, you may well find that you can pick and choose your clients.
There are lots of DIY books available on how to write a plan with all kinds of secret strategies. One of the best I’ve seen is Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies by Rhonda Abrams. I guarantee if you spend some time with this book you’ll find more than one idea that works for you.
You can’t afford to wait, so get a plan! And remember: one of the things we help lawyers prepare is a strategic plan that is adapted to their particular field of law and locale. Check out the Attorneys Creative Roundtable. You won’t be disappointed.