Client Development

If You’re So Smart, Why Ain’t You Rich?

My father used to ask, “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” 

There are probably a million things that are wrong with that question, but his basic point is worth considering. He was asking why it is that some people believe that they know better concerning just about everything, but they do not generate any results from their supposed brilliance.

He typically posed the question in the context of teenagers who, in his opinion, had way too much attitude.

I would ask it about lawyers in private practice who have not developed a client base.

We all know lawyers who have worked at their firms for many years but have brought in very few of their own clients. You can usually spot them easily. They are the ones who are always going on and on about how the business developers get too large a slice of the pie, and more money should be reserved for the really smart people who know their law.

I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this because I was the perfect lawyer. I knew my stuff cold, was practical and could see the forest for the trees, and brought in and retained clients. At least that was my opinion which was, I am sure, not shared by all of my partners.

I knew a few lawyers who were super smart and still never developed a great client base. Here are some examples:

  1. One fellow was the most knowledgeable and creative litigator who I ever met.  Clients should have flocked to him.   His issue had something to do with the fact that he never returned phone calls or answered emails on a timely basis and that he could lose interest in a file for months or even years on end.
  2. Another lawyer had an encyclopedic knowledge of the law in his somewhat narrow practice area. His problem was that he was always busy, although his recorded hours were no great shakes.  He constantly paced around the office looking stressed and complaining about how much pressure he was under. He certainly did not have the time to network or to maintain relationships with existing clients. Everyone tried to help him avoid a nervous breakdown by keeping clients away from him. 
  3. Then there was the lawyer who constantly covered his ass with his clients. The clients always had the impression that Job One was protecting himself and that their concerns came a distant second.
  4. And let’s not forget about the lawyer who insisted that there was only one way to do things.  The client said that she needed a short and informal document that the other side might sign without running it by legal, and the lawyer delivered a long, formal document rather than explaining the risks and letting the client choose whether to assume them.

I could go on, but it all comes down to the same thing.  There are different types of ‘smart,’ and as is the case with most businesses, and perhaps contrary to public perception, the legal profession tends to reward emotional intelligence and people skills. If you don’t have them, get them.

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