Client Development

Being Brilliant is Over-Rated

Way back before the cell phone, we had a telephone in our reception area for clients to use. At the same time, my doctor had a sign in his reception area advising patients that the doctor’s phone was for his staff’s use and clients could use a payphone in the lobby. The difference? We lawyers had to market ourselves to find clients and then convince them to pay our bills. My doctor worked under a government health care system and did not have to worry about either of those things.

Law Firm Management

Another Law Firm Just Went Down

“Write what you know.” 

Mark Twain

I know absolutely nothing about the collapse of Minden Gross LLP beyond what I have read in the Globe & Mail. However, I did hang around the legal profession for a long time, and I figure that qualifies me to comment.


Users and Mentors

This is an abridged version of one of my first posts from several years ago.

Supervising lawyers fall into two groups. 

  1. Those who will devote no effort to training Associates beyond what is necessary to get their work done.  They may teach their Associates how to do things but will not take the time to teach them why they are being done or why they are being done differently in different situations. They will: (i)  mark up the Associate’s draft, but will not spend the time to explain why the changes are necessary; (ii) involve the Associate in a part of the file, but exclude them from meeting clients where the strategic considerations are being discussed; and (iii) have the Associate draft the agreement but not involve the Associate in the negotiation of the document with the other side.  Every decision is based solely on whether it advances the short-term interests of the senior lawyer. I call these senior lawyers the “Users.”
  2. At the opposite extreme, there are those who assist their Associates to develop to their full potential. They spend as much non-billable time as is required to achieve that goal, even if doing so is not profitable in the short-term. I call this group the “Mentors.”

The Users justify their approach in many ways.   They are too busy.  They do not believe in “hand-holding”.  The “sink or swim” approach is the best way to train someone.  At the end of the day, it is all nonsense – these lawyers simply do not want to earn less money by wasting billable time, and sometimes do not want to expose their Associates to their clients and risk losing the loyalty of the clients.

In my experience there are more Users than Mentors, and I believe that there is a historical reason for this.

In the old days, lawyers joined firms with a view to working their way up the ranks, becoming partners, and cashing in. Senior lawyers were willing to spend their time and effort in developing their Associates who would be their future partners and stay with their firms throughout their career. 

Then things changed. Salaries of Associates increased beyond their actual value to the firms.  In bad times, firms cut Associates loose.  In good times, Associates rewarded the lack of loyalty by jumping from firm to firm for more money.  Partners had to put in more hours to maintain the levels of profitability that they had come to expect, and gradually senior lawyers developed the attitude that they were not going to invest their time at personal cost in lost billings to train Associates who would likely not be with them that long anyway.

So here we are.  We now have Mentors who will sacrifice their time and short-term billable hours to help the next generation develop, and Users who will not.

The challenge for new Associates looking for jobs is to find out who is willing to work with them to help them reach their potential, and who just wants to use them.

People I Met Practicing Law

Law Firm Primer For Articling Students and New Associates – Part One: The Managing Partner

When articling students or young lawyers enter a law firm of any size for the first time, they see the carefully cultivated image that the law firm promotes and are often thrilled to be part of a legal fantasy world where every lawyer is dynamic, brilliant, experienced, strategic, and practical. 

Over time they get to know the lawyers and other key players, and eventually figure out what is real and what is not.

The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

Too Nice For This World

Before you read this story, I should let you know that this is a sad story which does not end well.

Long ago I had a great professional relationship and friendship with Laurence.  I liked Laurence a lot.  He was honest and ethical. He cared about his clients, his family, and his relationships. He taught me valuable lessons about dealing with clients and co-workers.

People I Met Practicing Law Uncategorized

The Importance of Asking The Right Questions

This is a true story, even though it may not sound like one.

Chris was a law partner who joined a new firm.  Two of his new partners were named Angela and Martin.

Soon after Chris joined the firm, Angela cancelled out of a promotional ski trip, leaving a gap to be filled. So Martin invited Chris to the event and mentioned that he could use the hotel room that had been reserved for Angela.

The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

The Me Generation

I am on a fifty-five day segment of a one hundred and eleven day geriatric world cruise. That is not the official title – the cruise line just calls it a ‘world cruise.’  But if you think about who can afford the time and money to be on vacation for that length of time, you can see why the average age of the cruisers is high enough to make me, at 68 years old, one of the youngsters.

Law Students and Young Lawyers

Lies We Tell Our Associates

My wife says that I am pathologically honest. I even have trouble bringing myself to tell little white lies (except when writing on LinkedIn where I may fib about the identity of some of the characters, and that one time I forgot to mention to my ex-wife that I had fallen in love with my Associate.)

Being too honest can be a real problem sometimes, especially when you are running a law firm.

At my law firm, we were scrupulously honest. But my friend Martin tells me that at his firm it was sometimes necessary to lie to the Associates.

Law Firm Management

The Evolution of a Question

When I first attended partners meetings, “what are other law firms doing?” was a question that I heard over and over. Whether the topic was a billable hour requirement, parental leave policy, marketing initiative, or just about anything else, the question of what other law firms were doing always seemed to be relevant.

Law Firm Management

Those Who Got Away

Let me tell you about a lawyer named Josh. Josh was not very good. Everybody said so, especially the partner who was his practice group leader.  Eventually the firm redirected Josh’s career path. He moved on and started his own practice. Josh did very well on his own. He developed a great reputation in the profession practicing the same type of law that he was not good enough to practice at his old firm.