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LawBiz® TIPS – Week of December 10, 2013

LawBiz(r) newsletter

Brrrrrr. The talk of the week is "weather" and the death of perhaps the greatest leader of all, Nelson Mandela. I have to wonder if, after 27 years in jail, he could still be tolerant and happy, how is it that many of our attorney colleagues cannot be civil with one another?

I have lived a very blessed life, far more safe and fulfilled than my parents. In some ways, I'm better off than even my kids. An interaction with a doctor this week caused me to put everything into perspective: If we have our health, nothing else matters. Nothing else is a problem. Someone (I don't remember who) said that anything that can be fixed with money is not a problem. Wake up and smell the roses. Yes, we all have challenges, but only poor health can create problems. Be well and enjoy the life we've been given.
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The "Seat Power" in Your Law Firm

A dichotomy many of us first see in school is that there are the students who are naturally brilliant and can coast along, "cramming" or studying only before exams and still doing quite well. Then, there is the great majority who must study throughout the year in addition to doing focused study at the end, before exams. I used to call the latter type of learning "seat power." Students who embodied it typically did well also, they just did so in a different way that was not as flashy and that required more effort.

This "seat power" analogy can be applied to how many law firms approach lawyer talent with regard to business development. Just as not every student can effortlessly get an "A," not every associate can effortlessly engage in business development. Yet all lawyers, working together as a team, can share client information and legal knowledge, to the benefit of the whole firm.

One of the best ways to visualize law firm roles is by using three simplified but recognizable characterizations for lawyer types:

  • Finders – those who generate and bring in new business. These are the rainmakers with the Midas touch, unsurpassed at aggressiveness, geniality and promotional skills.

  • Grinders – lawyers who are technically skilled at legal work but not at business development. They often were brought in to serve the principle of leverage, doing work at much lower cost than the partners who billed out that work at the higher cost partner rate.

  • Minders – the members of the firm who are on the front lines, with responsibility for both maintaining client relationships and coordinating the efforts of their colleagues to ensure that client needs are met.

The last two types of lawyers definitely embody "seat power." They are good lawyers but may not be great rainmakers. They were originally brought into the firm for good reason, and typically they reach all the metrics (whether by number of hours, matters or revenue) the firm assigns to them. Yet too often, in today's hyper-competitive environment, firms are tempted to dispose of such lawyers - particularly the grinders - as a short-sighted move to boost profits. This frequently is counterproductive, because the lawyers with seat power are performing quality work at a profit to the firm, and the clients are being well served. Flashy finders are important; but grinders and minders with seat power form the solid foundation that no firm can do without.

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