I recently posted about the need to focus on rainmaking. From this I received a number of inquiries from new lawyers that question how anyone can do this when they are not really sure how yet to practice law. "Don't you need to know what you are doing first"?
The question is rather counter intuitive to me. It represents kind of the chicken or the egg argument, if you would think about it. Sure, you need to know about your practice area or niche, but how in the world are you going to get that experience if you do not focus on obtaining paying clients?
We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. We all have the ability to exploit our strengths and improve on our weaknesses. The problem with law school is that it does not deal with two of the three aspects of actually practicing law. Given the law school selection process (the personality types they typically accept), and the concentration on a limited set of tasks, most of us are greatly deficient on the skills not taught.
What you will hear about the practice of law is that the lawyers that make up the field are finders, minders and grinders. The finders bring in well paying clients. The minder keeps the well paying client happy. The grinder reads, briefs, writes, appears in court, argues with other grinders, and rarely sees the well paying client. The grinder certainly is not the chief contact.
Law schools concentrate on developing grinders. The Big Law system concerns itself first on developing grinders. Grinders are needed in order to create the large sum of money that flows up to the finders and minders. According to DealB%k, the average Big Law Partner in the United States makes $640,000.00. They are often paid many more times this amount. But, according to PayScale.Com, the average national salary, with bonuses, profit sharing and commissions for most attorneys is between $45,623 to $172,816 per year.
The irony of the situation is that many lawyers go solo directly out of law school, or leave Big Law, because they do not wish to be, or they are sick of just bing, grinders. They would rather, at least in their inner most thoughts, be finders and minders. And why not? I can assure you that when the legal market collapsed along with the economy a few years ago, it was the grinders that found themselves out of work. Minders would have done okay. And, every firm had room for the finders.
I say it is ironic, because most attorneys that go out on their own for this reason just seem to have so much trouble in going out and building a book of business (reliable referral sources). I am not exactly sure why, but most of it is emotional I am sure. They fear putting themselves out there only to get rejected or slapped down. It is hard work. It means making yourself known and always available to the right people, groups, organizations and associations that need and want you and your firm's services. It means focusing on the task of on follow up like a laser.
And ... what confuses most new lawyers is this thought that you already have to be the expert in your field, or a legal celebrity, in order to be a finder. This is just wrong.
Many lawyers that I consider good finders graduated at or below the fifty percentile of their graduating class. They went to 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier law schools, most held only odd jobs before and during law school. Many went to law school at nights and on the weekends. Let us just say that most finders were (and often are) unremarkable people.
Their biggest quality is that most have a friendly warmth about them -- kind of the opposite of the jackass quality that law schools tend to breed into people. Not an expertise necessarily, but a natural curiosity and a willingness to be available to help when needed. They are people that can listen to what people do not say. They have an ability or self-training to perceive emotion, integrate it, understand it, and regulate it to promote growth. They are great at self-awareness and gut feelings.
Finders are also good at relationship management as an adjunct to, or replacement for, the law school taught skills.
Understand, however, that what I did not mention to be a great finder was experience of the lack thereof. As pointed out by Jacob Stein recently, the experience that is needed is that as described by Aldous Huxley:
"Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him."
And,if you are self-conscious, diffident, or reticent, I would tell you not to worry. Those are probably the best qualities to being a great finder. We all suffer from leaner's reticence, but the only way to get over it is to get out there and make yourself available.
In fact, I will tell you that being a little hesitant, demurred, modest, or sedate is a bit of an advantage. Nobody likes an in-your-face lawyer or an unrestrained cheerleader. These lawyers come across as hucksters and people actually try to avoid them.
All that is required is to always be there, and to at least try to be helpful, and to gently follow up.
Maybe that is the problem to some extent. It is hard to convince yourself that you can be reserved and talkative, or unassertive and confident. I tend to think of it as just being yourself as among friends at the kitchen table.
The trait I have found in finders is not that they are not shy or restrained, nervous, humble or retiring, it is that they are there. If you wish to represent builders, for example, you will find that there are a lot of attorneys that are members of the local association of builders. But, what you will not find many that are always there, at the meetings, at the luncheons, and the continuing education, passively making contacts, building friendships, remembering information, but otherwise just being modest. Most attorneys just pay dues.
Sure these people, groups, organizations and associations already have established relationships. But these are always in a state of flux. You have to be there when these people and groups want a change.
The point is when people talk about an over supply of lawyers they are talking about grinders. They are sometimes talking about minders. But, there are very very few attorneys who have a "book of business" and who are -- or aspire to be -- finders. If you are primarily in this latter category, you will never have too much competition.
So, what do you want to be? Finder? Minder? Or, a grinder?