Every so often law firms hold lawyer retreats, which are generally broken into three segments.
Part One is usually about working harder, billing more and bringing in more clients. During this portion of the retreat, every individual lawyer reflects carefully on the contribution that they have made to the firm in the past year and judges it to have been magnificent. They then turn their attention to the contributions that the other lawyers have made to the firm and usually find them lacking in one way or the other.
Part Two is often about firm morale, team building and how to work together in a more constructive manner. After Part One, lawyers are not generally that receptive to Part Two.
And finally, Part Three. The highly paid speaker brought in to inspire the troops. This is often the most interesting part of the event.
At one firm retreat which I attended, the speaker told us about Canada Geese and drew a beautiful analogy to how a law firm should work. It was something about how the geese fly in a V formation designed to make it easier for each goose to fly sheltered from the wind by the goose ahead of it (except for the goose at the front who must battle the headwinds.) He then explained how the geese rotate in and out of the front position. Apparently, Canada Geese are a model of cooperation and mutual assistance which we lawyers are supposed to aspire to. The speaker left out the part about just how vicious Canada Geese can be if you get up close to them. Perhaps another parallel to lawyers, but I digress.
Anyway, just as we could feel ourselves being inspired to be better people by this wonderful story, the presenter went even further and explained that if a goose is injured, it would make its way to the ground to mend, and another goose would descend with the injured goose to watch over it while it healed. At this moment one of my partners leaned over and whispered, “That other goose is going with it to steal its clients.”
Apparently, there is only so much that you can teach a bunch of competitive lawyers about playing nicely and cooperating with each other.
(And then there was the retreat where management had obviously neglected to vet exactly what the speaker was going to say. This particular speaker’s theme was about doing what you were passionate about, and he kept telling us to ask ourselves, “what is the best use of my time right now?” All of the discussion after that session was about whether the best use of our time was being lawyers at this particular firm, or whether we should move on to do something else or somewhere else.)
But, back to the message of the Canada Geese and playing nicely together. You may have heard that it takes all types of lawyers to build a successful law firm. These various types are sometimes described as the Finders, Minders, Grinders and Binders, although sometimes the Binders are an after-thought.
The Finders find the clients; the Minders actually know the law, can see the big picture, and develop legal strategies; the Grinders do the research, push out the paper and go to court on all of the routine stuff; and the Binders get involved with the community and develop the reputation of the firm, thus helping the Finders find the clients.
Of course, these categories sometimes overlap and on occasion you may even find a lawyer who excels in all of these categories.
I imagine that clients may find it surprising that only a fraction of lawyers are actually Minders – really bright people who know the law and how to use it. I also suspect that clients may be surprised to find out that law firms often value Finders more highly than Minders, Grinders or Binders. In fact, in every law firm there is the story of some partner or former partner who was an absolute idiot who no one would trust to handle a legal file, but who attracted a great deal of business and was allocated a large slice of the compensation pie.
The lessons from all of this?
For young lawyers, the lesson is to know who you are working with and what you can learn from them. By all means, learn about business development from the Finders, but find a Minder to teach you the law and a Grinder to teach you how to get things done.
For more experienced lawyers, the lesson is that Finders always make more money than Minders, Grinders and Binders. It isn’t fair. Either figure out how to be a Finder or learn to accept that someone else is earning more for being one when you are not.
But the most important lessons are for the clients, who are, after all, who we lawyers should always have at the forefront of our minds.
The first lesson for clients is to know what type of lawyer you are hiring. Choosing a law firm because you were sold by a great Finder is one thing. But figure out if you need a Minder or a Grinder (or both) to do the work, and then ask who you will actually be dealing with. Interview these people before hiring the firm and find a way to determine whether they are good at what you need them to do. I was a bit of a Finder once upon a time. On one occasion I gave an inspired sales pitch to a potential client who seemed to be suitably impressed. Then he said to me, “That was great. Now I want to meet the person who will actually do the work.” We did reel in that client, but only after my associate went to his office for an interview without me being present. Smart client.
Clients should also remember two things: (1) Every Finder and Grinder thinks that they are a Minder and will not hesitate to provide legal advice that may not be the best possible advice; and (2) Many Minders do not actually want to do the work that the Grinders do, so the advice may be great but the implementation not so much.
Finally, there are the rare lawyers who are both Minders and Grinders, and that is who you want doing your work. Even more rare are the lawyers who are Finders, Minders and Grinders, and they will not only do a great job on your file, but they will also take you to lunch. These double and triple threats are difficult to identify, but you can sometimes pick them out because they are the ones working day and night and answering their phones on the weekends.