To Grow Your Practice, Expand Your Personal Space

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Traveling to another country is a, well, foreign experience. Years ago, I traveled to China, where I became well acquainted with cultural differences.

One day, I was standing among a group of my colleagues waiting for a performance to begin. Being from America — and thus believing in a certain amount of comfortable personal space and not breathing down the neck of the person standing in front of me — there was what I considered appropriate room surrounding me. Soon, though, there were many people moving through that space. In China, personal space has its own parameters, and those parameters are smaller than in the U.S.

Clearly, cultures have differences both in personal space and in geographic space. This idea came full front recently in my job linking lawyers who want to sell practices with lawyers who want to buy practices. In my discussion with a prospective purchaser-lawyer, the attorney suggested that a practice 125 miles away would be a non-starter; in other words, he did not even want to consider purchasing a practice that was in a location so far from his current one.

But although the number of miles is large, the distance is really not so great.

From a literal perspective, I approach this topic with an obvious bias: I come from California, a large state with thousands of miles of roadway and millions of people. It seems that we can go nowhere, whether for work or recreation, without covering many miles and hours of travel.

This is true of many other states as well. And in a society that relies so strongly on all types of transportation, it is not unusual for people to do business in parts of their state or the country that are far removed from where they live and/or work. In other words, planes, trains and automobiles have literally shrunk the miles.

From a more figurative perspective, technology is shrinking the world. Much business can be conducted via telephones, the Internet, smartphones, etc. In terms of the business of law, technology has opened up the possibility of court hearings, declarative pleadings, etc., in forms other than in-person appearances.

This is true not only in California courts but elsewhere in the nation. "The World Is Flat," Thomas Friedman's 2005 book about how globalization has opened up equal business opportunities for people from every part of the world, is taking on new significance.

Many people work from home via technology, and much lawyering can take place in such a virtual world. Similarly, it is not a ridiculous notion to consider opening a second office miles away from your first office. The technological methods available to communicate with lawyers in that second space are much more numerous and effective than even a few years ago. Managing, conferencing — even face-to-face meetings are just a click away.

Consider, too, that marketing efforts to grow are most often "long distance." Websites and blogs are examples of Internet marketing that close any real-time distance gaps. And brochures, newsletters, articles in legal publications and mailings are examples of publication efforts that market to people in a broad geographical area around your "home base."

For a law firm that desires growth, either in increased revenue or in new practice areas, the hesitancy to move into an exploratory discussion based only on a few miles of separation is an unusual occurrence in my experience. In the situation with the prospective purchasing lawyer, the potential benefit of hundreds of thousands of dollars of increased revenue and new client markets was, in my opinion, too compelling to dismiss lightly.

In America, we value our space — both personal and geographic. But space is not the same as distance. And in America, we can have our personal and geographic space, but distance is more than surmountable.

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