Did you see the recent New York Times article: A Lawyer and Partner, and Also Bankrupt? The article is about Gregory Owens, a 55 year old large law firm lawyer who had spent his career as a service partner dependent on one of his firm’s rainmakers.
Among other things, it points out the potential jeopardy of being a “service” partner. These two quotes summarize why young lawyers need to work on developing clients.
“It’s sad to hear about this fellow, but he’s not alone in being in jeopardy,” said Thomas S. Clay, an expert on law firm management and a principal at the consulting firm Altman Weil, which advises many large law firms. “For the past 40 years, you could just be a partner in a firm, do good work, coast, keep your nose clean, and you’d have a very nice career. That’s gone.”
Scott A. Westfahl, professor of practice and director of executive education at Harvard Law School, agreed that service partners faced mounting pressures. “Service partners need a deep expertise that’s hard to find anywhere else,” he said. “Even then, when demand changes, and your specialty is no longer hot, you’re in trouble. There’s no job security.”
This article is another reminder that the only security for a lawyer practicing in a law firm is to have clients.
So why aren’t young lawyers more focused on learning client development skills early in their career? Some are in large law firms which tell young associates not to worry about client development and to just focus on doing good work and getting their hours. That approach may work well for the large law firm, but it is very risky for young associates. At the very least young associates need a “Plan B,” in case the “just do good work” plan doesn’t work out.
Some young lawyers think client development is like being a “salesman” and that is not why they became a lawyer.
Some young lawyers don’t think they have time for client development.
I have had the opportunity to work with law firms who believe in developing their next generation of lawyers. I wrote about those firms in a Marketing the Law Firm Article: What Are Law Firms Doing to Develop The Next Generation? Developing Successful Lawyers and Rainmakers.
I have also worked with young lawyers who contact me for coaching on their own. In 2013 I coached an associate from a large, well known, New York law firm. He understood that just being smart, doing good work and getting his billable hours was not enough for his career security. He was among the most motivated lawyers I have ever coached. He paid for the coaching out of his own pocket and each month his agenda for our hour long call was in greater detail than I have ever seen before (e.g. From 7:00 to 7:10 I want to talk about…From 7:10 to 7:25…) I loved working with him.
If you are an eager associate, I would love to work with you. If your law firm does not have a client development program for you, one of the easiest and least expensive ways we can work together is for you to join one of my group telephone client development coaching groups. In February I want to start groups of law firm associates. Here is my 2014 Group Telephone Client Development Coaching details.
Here also is a Practical Lawyer article I wrote: Practical Ideas On How A Coach Can Help You. Take a look at the article and if you want my help this year, I hope to hear from you.