Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Finally, Good Advice To Young Lawyers: Shut Up

It's not even fun anymore to predict what will happen on the internet when a discussion ensues about how young solo practitioners can make money, immediately.

So the queen of advocacy for solos, Carolyn Elefant, decided to open the floor to anyone with a perceived lucid thought in their head.

As Scott Greenfield noted, "naturally, a marketer showed up like a guppy drawn to chum..."

It's the mantra: Practice in trouble? Cash flow not what you expected with that shiny new iPad and virtual law practice? Start plunging your brains out on marketing.

A quick word about marketing.

Every so often the lawyers get into a dust up with the marketers, social media consultants, and tech hacks on the internet. We live different lives. Lawyers practice law. Many marketers, social media consultants, and tech hacks used to practice law and now don't, but have all the answers on how to make zillions as a lawyer. They'd rather just work at their dining room table and take their daily trip to Starbucks to tweet about the price increase on Netflix, which affects their nightly obligation to stay home because they have no money to go out.

The marketers will try to argue that lawyers are "marketers" as well. This is true. Everyone in business is marketing. The definition of marketing is to take your product or service to market. The difference is that practicing lawyers don't take money from desperate lawyers in return for marketing advice. We may engage in marketing, but our job is to practice law. I know, it's hard to comprehend that the only argument you marketers have is really no argument at all.

Back to the advice.

Here's some (anonymous of course) advice that came in the comments to Carolyn's post:

Waiting for people to refer you things is not a marketing plan. The three big marketing methods are direct mail solicitations, yellow pages and internet.

Learn these words: Search Engine Organization (SEO). SEO is the science of getting page 1 on Google. Become a master of SEO. Besides hiring an internet consultant, you should learn everything that you can yourself from books.

A good service will ghostwrite blogs for you that have good keyword content.

Don't get involved in commenting on other lawyer blogs (especially a crew of criminal defense lawyer blogs who are friendly with this site) They are well followed and readers will follow your comments from their sites to yours, but these guys get into the habit of picking fights with other lawyers on the internet.

(i.e., stay away from me)

From this point forward, 50% of your gross will go to internet and mail advertising. In a good economy, it drops to 25%. Cut non-advertising expenses. You can use a virtual phone network, get rid of the secretary, etc; but you can't skimp on advertising.

Criminal: Lots of people get arrested and need a lawyer. Do misdemeanor and DUI. Stay away from felonies in the beginning. Criminal cases are all flat fee paid up front (or at least half up front). Unlike civil litigation the opposing counsel (the prosecutor) isn't out to crucify you for your inexperience. They'll offer you 20-30% more jail that to an experience criminal defense lawyer who is part of the club; but they won't crucify you.

Marketing driven specialization in routine practice areas criminal/bankruptcy/divorce etc) will let you make a good living.

Too bad this loser was too scared to put his name to his awful advice.

But then there was Joe. Joe put his name to his advice, which caused Greenfield to call him out on his lack of experience.

Joe said maybe he should just "shut up," to which Greenfield said:

That's right. New lawyers don't want to hear this, and don't like it one little bit, but this is exactly the right advice. If you have nothing helpful to say, say nothing. If you have yet to achieve a thriving practice, then you have no advice for anyone else who is having difficulty achieving the same thriving practice.

I realize that the idea of shutting up offends you, and being told to shut up stings. I realize that it flies in the face of what your parents and professors told you, that you should express yourself constantly. But this is the real world, and just because you have a keyboard and time on your hands does not mean you have advice to offer.

After a few months, even a year in practice, I knew nothing. At least I told myself that. I spent a lot of time doing three things, practicing, listening, and learning. Giving advice was something I did to clients and those few lawyers in the PD's office that asked, but not to other lawyers who had been doing this longer than me. I took advice from them.

But that's not acceptable today. There is a notion out there that lawyers like me, like Greenfield, are "scared" of what's happening, that we're scared that our clients will go to younger lawyers armed with shiny toys and a recorded voice at the virtual (basement) office in mommy and daddy's house. That we're scared our clients will prefer someone who lives 2,000 miles away who was "recently quoted" on some website for 3 minutes.

You want to listen to (or pay) a lawyer who's been practicing for less time than it takes to have a child? You think these people have the answers? You think the way things "used to be done" are over?

Lawyers are like anyone else, even worse: tell them you can put money in their pocket, and they will listen. They will type, they will swipe the maxed out credit card for the marketing plan, and they willbe attracted to those that claim to have the secrets to the pot of gold.

Scott was right: "...this is the real world, and just because you have a keyboard and time on your hands does not mean you have advice to offer."

Wait... Oh, nevermind, I've been doing this longer than 9 months.

Non-anonymous comments welcome. 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


Rob Suarez said...

It's just too easy. The internet. The blogs. The "shiny toys" that make us "connected". I fell into this trap a few years ago, so I know a bit from experience, but I won't be offering advice because, well, I don't know shit. A few years ago I was out "on the street" with kids to feed and bills to pay - but no job. Door after door was (politely) slammed in may face. What was a guy to do? I reached out to my "connections". I updated my website. I blogged regularly. I actively commented on other blogs. I even became mildly annoying by posting "How can I help?" on twitter. Every. Damn. Day.

Guess what? Not a single person wanted my help.

The only freelance work I got was through the hands I physically shook. From people I personally knew. At the end of a very long summer, an interview for a real full-time job only came about through a close friend. We did not meet through LinkedIN. He did not contact me through my website.

What does all of this have to do with the practice of law, or Mr. Tannebaum's post? For most of you, maybe nothing. For me, its an affirmation that "web marketing" is not why I am entering the legal profession. I've already tried Amway in the 1990's - and it didn't work then either. No, I'm entering the legal profession for other reasons. And when I do, I can say that I will not be offering marketing advice. But I will be learning, and listening, and shaking hands.

Oh, I'm sure that I'll still ask "How can I help?"... but this time it will be directly to a client as we share a Cuban Coffee at Versailles.

@bradshawlaw said...

I don't understand the problem, I guess. My experience (even as limited as it is) tells me that marketing will come best from the mouths of happy clients. Happy clients are the ones who get good service (price may or may not be a factor here) from a good lawyer. So be a god damn great lawyer. There are going to be some people who need to cut their teeth and there aren't a bunch of firm jobs lined up for people to teach the actual practice of law. (Which is more of an issue of WTF happened to the $100k you spent going to "law school") But no matter what you do, you need to be competent. Being broke's not an excuse for taking on clients who you can't competently represent.

Thomas Stephenson said...

I'll out myself as a young lawyer to say the following.

The marketer's advice can be summed up thusly:

"Your problem is that you're a shitty lawyer and people know it. I know jack shit about being a lawyer, but I can teach you how to make sure that no one knows you're a shitty lawyer. Just stay away from Tannebaum and Greenfield, they're a couple of meanieheads who will say bad things about you and have it show up at the top of Google."

(They might actually learn something from you guys, but that's beside the point.)

If you can get Dad to cosign a loan, you can get a Porsche and nice toys and convince people you're not a broke scumbag who lives in his parents' basement. This is far easier to do than to actually put in the hard work necessary to make money.

Unfortunately, this is the attitude of many in my generation. It's easier to convince people you're a good lawyer than to actually become a good lawyer. The latter takes years of hard work, and possibly talking to people who have never heard of Twitter. The former just involves a little SEO and a lot of make believe.

And you see this attitude as well in all the "law school scam" crap. Notice how every one of those begins and ends with starting salaries. Not how much lawyers make after 10 or 20 years of practice, but how much they make after zero years practicing law.

I'm the first to admit that something is wrong if I'm making a six-figure income right now. Either I'm being grossly overpaid or I'm making that money dishonestly. But I'm in the minority with this view.

Andrews said...

One thing new guys may want to consider is being listed in the phone book.

Some of my referrals mention that they cannot find me, which is unsurprising since I am not listed, but for some lawyers it may help to be listed.

Another thing new lawyers might consider: do some pro bono. Same for old lawyers, sure, but that's part of being a lawyer. For new lawyers, do it in cooperation with the legal aid; they should be able to assist and guide.

Be a good, involved citizen in your community. It's slow, and uninspiring most of the time. Spend the next 20 years attending local govt meeting, participate occasionally. Write a letter to the editor.