Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Where Have All The Lawyers Gone?

The fallout from my post on a lawyer who complained that his ability to create a civil practice partly by gaining experience on criminal defendants, can be summed up as: "you're mean, thank you." The "thank you" came from the young lawyer to whom I was probably a bit unfair - splattering his email on my blog, not removing his name.

Sure, he sent it to 4,000 people, and as a lawyer, he knows that making a public statement is just that - public. But in today's world, it's all about coddling, being nice, not ruffling feathers, giving hugs, and making sure everyone's happy. The desire for mentors - real mentors who will tell it like it is - is almost gone. The 50 or so comments convinced me of this: Few of today's young lawyers want mentors, we are more concerned about whether someone is being "mean" then whether they are being honest, although there are still some young lawyers who don't mind being told they are not as cute as everyone on their listserv is telling them.

Here's a sampling of what lawyers, yes, lawyers, had to say:

Are you just looking for content for your blog?

...unfortunately, many people on the list spent far more time taking this lawyer to task for seeking advice than actually trying to help him out.

You posted a highly-critical and demeaning attack on another lawyer, and you didn't bother to contact that lawyer to get his perspective. That's not fair. In fact, it's just plain wrong.

I think you have done the profession a disservice in this post.

And from the lawyer who was the subject of the post?

Brian, shg, Carolyn, and everyone else, I will take your advice. It is not lost on deaf ears. ...I do not agree with everything that has been said, but I wanted you all to understand that I am listening instead of tuning you out. My defensiveness was instinctual, but it's not the end all be all of my personality. I will learn, because I must. I'm not a fan of hard knocks, but sometimes they are necessary.

I became a lawyer to be an advocate. When I graduated, I started advocating. After a few years of learning, I thought I'd try to earn a living from what I learned, all the while continuing to learn. The internet was nothing. It was all about the yellow pages. We were told that to get business you had to meet people, do a good job, and build a reputation. Some decided to avoid all that by renting billboards, buying the back cover of the yellow pages, sending mailers, and anything else that would yell "HIRE ME." And hire me they did. Most prospective clients are looking for a lawyer, any lawyer. The key for me was to be a lawyer for those clients looking for a certain type of lawyer. It was hard. I didn't have 12 people in my lobby waiting to write me $500 checks. I was looking for that one client a week.

Today the path is graduation, twitter account, Facebook fan page, buy iPad, buy newer iPad, stand in line for yet newer iPad, hire SEO guy to get you to the first page of Google, and fake it 'till you make it. The marketers will say that they will only market for competent lawyers, but the truth is that with few exceptions, most of them will market for anyone with a dollar. And it's not confined to young lawyers. BigLaw is so desperate to market themselves that they'll talk to a 6-month no-longer-practicing-lawyer because he claims to be able to teach them how to be rainmakers by using social media. He never made rain as a lawyer, but no one seems to care. It's all about the sales job, right, counsel? This is why the number one group of people scammed by these Nigerian emails - are lawyers. We're so desperate for money we'll listen to anyone who mentions the word.

The rush to the marketing table is like the running of the bulls. Run fast, or die, they say.

I don't run very fast, and I don't see any bulls behind me. I've taken some great advice over the years, and kept my eye on the goal of building a practice of which I could be proud, regardless of what others think.

Today, though, building a practice is nothing more than collecting dollars. Sure, there are those who want to become respected advocates of the Bar. But so many are merely running in the direction of anyone who will tell them how to game the internet and nowhere else. When I tell young lawyers to join their local Rotary, sponsor charity events, go out and meet people, I can hear the "yeah, sure, how will that affect my internet presence?"

Where have all the lawyers gone? Where are the new, up and coming lawyers that laugh at the social media consultants, that envision a practice of clients and cases and research and advocacy, respect of their peers, authorship of articles on key legal issues, speaking engagements at real legal conferences? Where have all the lawyers gone who are less interested in collecting those clients looking for lawyers on the internet, and more interested in collecting clients looking for good lawyers through referrals? Are they on listservs speaking their mind about the state of the profession, or are they more concerned about whether some other lawyer may call them a "meanie?"

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark


Stephen Stanfield said...

You're a heartless bastard! That is probably exactly why you get hired a lot. No one hires me because I'm a nice guy. I'm not a nice guy. How litigators can have such thin skins is beyond me.

Now go stick your finger in the Man's eye.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the main differences you may be failing to take into consideration is the financial burden many new graduates face. Often times it may not be a case of faking it till you make it, rather its simply keeping the wolf away from the door. Due to the appalling job market many are forced into solo practice from necessity. While it may be noble to toil as a servant of the law, the slow and steady way is not going to make that $1000 student loan payment due the month after graduation.

Jon Lewis said...

One of the busiest lawyers in Birmingham will tell you that he's not a lawyer. He's a businessman. He spends $150,000 or more per month on TV and billboards. His clients are inventory or widgets. It's appalling to someone who has practiced for nineteen years. But, it can still be done. I'm a member of several groups and rotary. I use twitter and fb to educate others on what i.do, to engage them, and to actually go have coffee or a beer and meet them.

A lawyer's practice should be about relationships, not a tv soundbite. We used to be considered professionals, but now, we are just sharks looking for money.

This is one reason I joined www.injuryboard.com. This group is trying to bring back the concept of a professional within the legal field. Get back to word of mouth.

Good Post!