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The Business of Law

Law is a business. Yet, THE ECONOMIST pointed out last week, lawyers aren't businesslike enough.

Do you, for example, pay attention to numbers such as profit per partner [PPP] or cost-control strategies? Instead, most lawyers tend to focus narrowly at the assignment at hand, in worker-bee fashion. They miss the big picture of what's going on in the business. The result, especially visible in this downturn, is that the business unawares are often surprised at a layoff - and that they're among the axed. There's more.

This lack of knowledge and/or inattention to business spills over to customer service. In Jones Day Spring 2008 PRACTICE PERSPECTIVES Paul Pohl decried the tendency to approach a case "in isolation" as a legal problem. Instead that situation has to be seen "with an eye to the overall health and strategy of the an ongoing business." We all know how the case is won but the company goes bankrupt.

None of this is new, of course. Those who understood the fundamentals of business and operated their career strategically - often entrepreneurially - were the ones who survived, no matter what. They were also the ones who kept clients so satisfied that those clients brought in other ones. Thanks to all that business development, they made it to equity partner.

What is new is the reduced margin for error, both for law firms and for lawyers. The boom masked weaknesses. Now weekly there is a body count of reductions in force along with reduced PPP. This isn't likely to be temporary. The whole marketplace for legal services is changing. Clients like Pfizer concerned about fees are doing the changing. So is the competition like Valorem and Bates and Tyde with new models. Moreover, given the volatility, it's difficult or impossible to predict what practice areas will be in demand.

The short answer is given by Marshall Goldsmith. His mantra for changing times is: We're all entrepreneurs now. His book "What Got You Here Won't Get You There" has insight on changing, especially when we have the delusion we don't need to.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.