“Kicking it old-school” means doing things the traditional way.
Steeped in tradition, the legal profession is the epitome of old-school. Even though there are some traditions worth keeping, kicking out some of the old-school ways opens capacity to take in some of the new.
In the thick of back-to-school season, now is when tired old-school legal lingo that smacks of elitism needs to be kicked to the curb along with marketing tactics that continue only because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” has been the default.
Kick Tired Titles
Non-lawyer: In no other line of work is “non” used to describe someone who is not. It’s 2017 and still this disdainful us-and-them reference is used to distinguish a lawyer from someone who is not. Even more galling, it’s not only a title that trips off the tongues of a senior generation of professionals in the legal field, but is parroted by young ones who are learning a bad habit. Banish this insulting title from the legal lexicon right now.
Non-equity partner: Another bunch of “nots.” These folks can have a title of salaried partner, fixed-share partner, staff-partner, service partner, national partner, or counsel. Regardless of title, they are not financially invested in a partnership and therefore, don’t take a share of profits. Does not having skin in the game mean they’re lesser than? That’s highly unlikely. In some cases, it’s a conscious decision that enables them to do other things with their money.
Fee-earner: These people charge fees that pay salaries and fund a firm’s operating costs. The term implies that people who aren’t fee-earners are overhead. (If that’s what you think, try running a firm without them.)
Rainmaker: This peculiar reference conjures up notions that magic has something to do with someone’s seemingly uncanny ability to attract new clients and/or business. This isn’t so. Creating opportunities and making connections with the types of people who are apt to value your expertise has nothing to do with luck, magic or weather. Opportunities happen by building your brand and business, which takes perseverance and patience. Here’s the recipe: tightly target your client market, appeal to it, nurture relationships, deliver on promises, and over-deliver on expectations – every single day.
Alternative Legal Service Providers: There are no legal service providers who are alternative. They are mainstream and here to stay. Everyone who provides legal services – regardless of the structure in which they work – has a unique way of doing things. As a result, each attracts different types of clients for different types of reasons. This is the essence of choice. Learn to live with it. Better yet, partner up and mutually benefit.
Kick Tired Tactics
Internal Titles: Nobody outside the firm cares about your title and position inside the firm. Being a leader, co-leader, head of whatever or other internal pecking order nonsense doesn’t matter externally. Clients don’t care. They only care about who you are as it pertains to them.
Year of Call: Does longevity mean that someone is a better lawyer or simply that they are older? Age and experience can go hand in hand, but doesn’t always mean “older and wiser” or be indicative of a smarter, sharper lawyer. Clients rarely care about YOC, but they do care about a lawyer’s understanding of their industry and issues along with an ability to provide legal solutions and, even better, a helping hand.
As a side note, the ability to sort lawyers by YOC on a firm’s website is a recruiter’s dream. With ongoing Talent Wars (see below), this may not be desirable.
Vanity Projects: There are so many it’s difficult to choose just one example, but how about internal newsletters? The hours spent producing an internal newsletter that is days if not weeks out of date by the time it’s published, burns time and money. Don’t spend either on internal messaging. Here’s a simple recipe: design a template, add info covering whatever time period makes sense, keep copy short, use bullet points, proof read, translate if need be, and post or send.
To prove the burn rate of any vanity project, have it produced externally. Find out how time-consuming and expensive – and ultimately, ludicrous – vanity projects usually are. Instead, use that time and money to deliver on marketing projects and business development initiatives that support the firm’s greater good.
Kick Tired Talk
Fee Pressures: This is what happens when clients request or require a lower price than you’d ideally like to charge. It happens in other forms of business so why not legal? There are many ways to deal with costs that will keep a client happy and you in business. Talk it through with your client and find middle ground together.
Flattened Markets: Otherwise known as the world economy, this has been in place one way or another since people discovered they could buy quality products and services at fair prices in places other than their home base. Plainly put, it’s tightened market competition, which makes for stronger competitors.
Client Expectations: All of us are clients and customers of others. Don’t we have expectations of those with whom we interact or do business? Instead of merely meeting expectations, consistently exceed them and watch your reputation soar.
Talent Wars: Good people will always be in demand. Choose a narrow practice niche, be one of the best at what you do, learn to say no to work that’s not in your wheelhouse and yes to work that is. Doing so will result in you being a go-to person for the work you really want and enable you to do it in an environment of your choosing.
Innovation: A word so overused that it has lost its meaning. Innovators are one-of-one. They are the first to do something that no one has ever done before. Lots of firms talk about being innovators, but very few actually are. And those that are truly innovative tend to go about it quietly.
Disruption: This is the mother of all tired talk. It simply means change within the legal market that has been steadily ongoing for well over 20 years. This change shouldn’t come as a surprise or be considered a threat. Deal with it. Better yet, embrace it.
There’s a school of thought that you have to scare some lawyers to get their attention or that getting them to do something means they have to be dragged kicking and screaming. Sometimes scaring actually works, although not everyone scares easily and, frankly, dragging is too much work.
Still, continuing to kick it old-school is the safe way of doing things while learning new ways stimulates growth and kindles enlightenment. And, isn’t that what school is really all about?
Heather Suttie is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading authorities on legal market strategy and management of legal services firms.
For 25 years, she has advised leaders of premier law firms and legal service providers worldwide — Global to Solo | BigLaw to NewLaw — on innovative strategies pertaining to business, markets, management, and clients.
The result is accelerated performance achieved through a distinctive one of one legal market position and sustained competitive advantage leading to greater market share, revenue, and profits.
The effect is accomplishment of the prime objective — To Win.