I practiced business law for 40 years. I never knew much about criminal law. In fact, I knew so little about the subject that I used to tell my clients that if they got arrested, they probably should not use their one phone call to call me because all that I could do for them in their hour of need would be to incorporate a company.
I once had a partner named George. George had many very loyal clients, and I asked him to explain to me how he did it. This is one of the lessons which George taught me and which I integrated into my own philosophy about being an effective lawyer.
I am, of course. But I don’t have to make sure that everyone else knows it. Whenever I forget this simple truth, the client ends up paying for it somehow.
There is an easy way and a hard way to develop a good client base in the legal profession. The hard way is to work extremely long hours and be phenomenally good at what you do. I have met a few people who have done it this way, but not very many.
I have observed over the years that it is an interesting aspect of human nature (or at least the nature of lawyers) that people tend to value most what they themselves do well.
Law firms being partnerships, someone must decide how to split the pie at the end of the year, and except in some small firms, the pie is rarely split evenly. The task of deciding how large a slice of the profits should be given to each partner in medium and large firms usually falls to the compensation committee. One might think that the compensation committee would consist of human resources professionals with specialized knowledge in evaluating job performance, and perhaps that is the case in some firms, but in many firms the primary qualification for membership on the compensation committee is a large client base and big billings.
I practiced with a medium sized firm in Mississauga, Ontario, which many of you may be surprised to know is the sixth largest city in Canada, just after Edmonton and ahead of Winnipeg and Vancouver. Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s several Toronto firms opened offices there. At that time, the buzz in the legal profession was that there was no future for medium sized law firms, and they would all be wiped out by the larger firms with their greater expertise. In fact, almost all the Toronto firms closed their offices in Mississauga after a short time, and the local firms have been doing just fine ever since.