Harrison Barnes' Legal Career Advice Podcast - Episode 37
- Many attorneys go into the practice of law with the idea of making a lot of money.
- The purpose of this article is to tell you how to think about making money when practicing law.
- In reality, it doesn't matter where you went to law school, how well you did in law school, or even if you want to be an attorney.
- If you want to make money practicing law, you can.
Many attorneys go into the practice of law with the idea of making a lot of money. The purpose of this article is to tell you how to think about making money when practicing law. In reality, it doesn't matter where you went to law school, how well you did in law school, or even if you want to be an attorney. If you want to make money practicing law, you can.
When I was in law school, starting salaries in the largest law firms seemed like a ton of money. Back then, it was $60,000 and had gone up to $80,000 before my third year of law school. Over time, the amount of money that attorneys make has continued to increase.
My contracts professor said something to me I will never forget. "If you are in law school and becoming an attorney to make a lot of money, you are in the wrong profession."
While I disagree with that to some extent, it is difficult to earn a lot of money unless you have special skills. Attorneys crowd the legal profession. They fight over the same clients, the same work, and the same opportunities to get ahead. Plus, people are fighting over the same job openings.
Once you do bring in work, you need to worry about getting paid. The legal profession is hostile. Only the fittest, hungriest, and best-prepared survive.
At the outset, it does not matter where you went to law school, how you did there, or what you are doing right now. The tasks you must do to make a lot of money have very little to do with this.
I have more than two decades of experience seeing the types of attorneys who make the most money. I have seen how earning a lot of money will not make you happy. More likely, it will cause a variety of extra problems you will have to contend with. But, if making money is what you want, I will tell you what you need to do.
You Need to Think Like a Businessman
Years ago, I had a very unusual experience. I was purchasing a domain name called "Law.net." The domain's value abruptly plummeted. Why? ICANN, the organization that issues domain names, released new extensions into the market. This was the introduction of domains such as .biz and .info.
Before this time, a ".net" domain was worth about 10% of what a ".com" domain was worth. Thus, if Law.com was worth $2,000,000, then Law.net was worth $200,000.
With this new development, the domain was worth far less.
I had already paid $150,000 towards the domain and was very confused and upset about going forward. I was mad at the domain broker who sold me the domain name. I was mad at the seller for demanding an extra $50,000 to complete the sale.
To "save" the sale, the seller put me in touch with Brandon Pollock, who purchased "leads" for legal services.
I had a series of telephone meetings with him over a few weeks. He encouraged me to use the Law.net domain to generate leads. I'd sell leads for employment, personal injury, and other types of cases to him and his law firm.
He explained he "kept the best leads" that came in and sold the rest to other attorneys. He had a considerable business doing this and told me in no uncertain terms how successful he was. He was not bragging and not a bad guy. He wanted me to go into business with him and sell him leads by representing what a great opportunity it was.
I had no interest in doing business with Brandon because I learned long ago that I am good at what I do. I get jobs for attorneys and find attorneys for law firms. Any time I stray from this, I do not do well against more experienced, savvy, and focused competitors.
As a business rule, one of the most important things I could ever teach you is to focus and know what you want to do. The longer you focus, the better you get at something, and the harder it is for competitors to compete with you.
What made Brandon so interesting was that he was essentially running and operating a law firm — and he was not even an attorney. He chose cases, hired attorneys, promoted the firm, and grew it with his marketing skills. He knew everything about operating a successful law firm and how everything worked. He was well-off and understood the business of law – even though he was not practicing law.
He looked for profitable cases, promoted his firm and attorneys, and had other people do the work. It did not matter that Brandon was not an attorney. What mattered is that he understood the business of law. Without ever writing a brief, Brandon realized how to earn a great living operating a law firm.
And he was good at it.
You need to understand what Brandon did. You can make as much money as you want operating a law firm if you know the business of law.
The business of law is about:
• Efficient development and promotion of your brand (or another attorney)
• Bringing in leads for work
• Converting these leads into clients
• Recruiting the right people to do the work for you
• Managing the people doing work for you
• Profiting off the people and systems you set up to bring in and do the work, and
• Refining and repeating the process over and over again as business conditions change.
This is what makes guys like Brandon (and attorneys like him) effective. It is also what attorneys who start firms that fail or fail to grow, do wrong. It is what firms that stay a specific size and never expand do somewhat right but not all the way. You cannot make a lot of money practicing law unless you understand these lessons.
- Top 9 Ways For Any Attorney To Generate a Huge Book of Business
- Making Rain: Ingredients for Success
1) The Attorneys Who Make the Most Money Practicing Law Develop and Promote Their Brand
The most successful attorneys are experts in promoting themselves and their brands. They appeal either to companies, consumers, or a combination of these. They may appeal to attorneys with power who can advance their careers. Regardless of who you are and where you work, you need to promote your brand.
Young attorneys rise through the ranks by keeping a low profile and being indispensable to the right people. They impress the right attorneys in their firms and advance this way. They are not hungry for recognition or money. Early on, they learn from and become indispensable to the right attorneys.
This is important for young attorneys to learn. The best clients expect attorneys to have long apprenticeships under the best attorneys.
When you work for other attorneys, your brand becomes:
• The quality of your work,
• How hard you work,
• Your ability to meet deadlines,
• Your enthusiasm for the practice of law,
• How well you get along with clients,
• Your skill at finding extra work to do for clients,
• Your ability to focus on the needs of the firm and its clients.
If you do a good job, align yourself with the right people, and work harder than others, you will earn a lot of money. Successful lawyers working for others can make a great living.
Speaking from experience, you are better off specializing than not specializing. You are better off at an outstanding firm with significant clients than an average firm. You are better off working with partners with huge books of business than those who do not.
That said, if you are going to make real money, you need to break free from working for others. You must develop a brand that attracts clients.
- Should You Start Your Own Law Firm? Top 10 Reasons to Start or Not Start Your Own Firm
- Take This GIFT for Granted and Your Legal Career Will Be Dead: Why Attorneys Must Always Have Access to Lots of Work and Be Busy
The most successful attorneys find this out rather fast. You cannot make a lot of money as an attorney practicing law if you rely on other attorneys to generate work. While it is possible to make $1,000,000 a year or more, you can make much more if you bring in business.
Attorneys with business have massive control over their careers. Without business, you risk losing your job, or the firm hiring someone to do the work cheaper.
Many attorneys set out to develop their own business. They aim to build their brand internally with the law firm's clients.
The Process of Creative Destruction is Alive and Well in All Law Firms
One way attorneys develop business is to get close to other attorneys' clients, then exclude the original partners.
They try to show the client they can get better results. How? By doing free work and giving them more attention than the partners who originated the work.
They develop a reputation with the client of trying to "one-up" the people the clients belong to. Their long-term goal is to steal the client when they leave the firm.
Many attorneys I work with tell me they are the primary contact with clients. If they were to leave, clients would go with them — so they think. In most cases, the clients do not go with the attorney. Clients are smart and realize what is going on, and long-term clients usually stay with the firm. But it does happen often enough to be attractive to attorneys with no other way to get business.
Attempting to steal clients from other attorneys is an understandable fantasy. If you work in an office all the time, this might be your first networking opportunity to get new clients. You will likely see this as low hanging fruit. You find inefficiencies and try to use this as your "brand" — an advocate to save the client money. I am aware of many significant law firms started by attorneys who broke off this way.
New firms always start with the idea that they are doing things in a "new way." They do this because this is the best idea for a "brand" and a way to get clients to work with them. Almost always, these new firms end up raising their rates. They become inefficient and try to get as much money out of clients as possible.
I've seen countless new firms fail within a few years because they grow too greedy too fast. They often become dangerous to clients because they have no idea how to run a business. They end up overbilling clients more than large firms, which exercise added discretion.
This has gone on forever. Partners are aware of it and watch out for it; but, they cannot always protect against it.
There is a better way to develop a brand. Not by hurting those close to you, but by earning it.
You do not need to work for others to develop a brand, but you can. To develop a brand, you need to decide what that brand will be and go after it. Hard. This means understanding what makes you unique or developing unique characteristics.
Brandon Pollack's wife, Lisa Bloom, went to Yale Law School and is the daughter of Gloria Allred. She has been on countless shows promoting women's' rights, victims' rights, and so forth. His wife is all over the law firm's website, and Lisa is out there promoting herself like crazy. Plus, her association with Gloria Allred is a home run. No attorney has done more to insert herself into every controversy than Gloria Allred. Brandon's law firm had a celebrity and a brand as a victim's advocate that would be almost impossible to screw up.
But, most attorneys (or non-attorneys operating law firms) are not so lucky. Instead, they must develop attributes that make them unique to attract clients.
It is not enough to promote things like where you went to law school, where you worked, and so forth — but it can be. When I was practicing law, I worked for John Van De Kamp, California's former attorney general. He took a job in a law firm after retiring from public service. Despite a life of public service, his experience and brand made him able to attract clients.
Most attorneys that create a brand will need to have an interest in something. That may be criminal defense, family law, litigation, corporate law, and so on. Whatever their brand, they need to stand for something.
You need to look like the best solution to potential clients when they have a legal problem.
I was in a thrift store with my girlfriend not too long ago looking for a used couch to throw in my basement.
I could not believe that a "cloud couch" my girlfriend wanted cost $15,000. I wanted to show her there was a better way and that I could save us at least $14,000.
As I pointed out the virtues of a cheaper couch, I heard someone behind me say, "You don't want that couch!" I turned around and standing there was an old friend who was in his mid-40s and had never practiced law (as far as I knew).
He had started a software company when he was in law school at NYU and then ran it for several years. He started selling life insurance, then he stopped and went to a school in Los Angeles. He wanted to learn how to practice Oriental medicine, of all things.
I started talking to him and he revealed he recently started a law firm. It was a children's rights firm suing school districts to get special accommodations for children who needed them. I could not believe someone could start a law firm like that in their mid-40s. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized he had a great idea.
There was a ton of money in it (I believe part of the "settlements" for getting accommodations requires law firms to pay the legal fees of the child). He had done an incredible job branding his small law firm in this field. When I looked around Los Angeles, I realized there were very few people doing this. He was a smart guy and found an ingenious use for his law degree.
He had set up a good website promoting this specialty. He also had excellent credentials and a strong personal story about why he was doing the sort of work he was doing. If I were he, I would promote my brand by networking with groups of parents. I would try to help their kids in groups they started. I would start a group of my own for parents; I would get on talk shows and do whatever else I could to promote this. If I were filing lawsuits, I would alert the local media about perceived injustices. (In terms of treatment my clients received.) I would use that to attract other clients.
Successful attorneys need a brand. You need to stand for something and for people to have a reason to believe in you and see what makes you different. You should not only be an expert able to solve clients' problems but also the best expert for this in the market.
When I was practicing law, I was unhappy working in a law firm and was looking for something else to do. In Los Angeles, Morse Mehrban was an attorney making millions of dollars. He sued businesses for not posting Prop 65 warnings on products known to cause cancer. The more I learned about the business he was running, the more I learned how easy it was and how many targets there were. For example, you could sue all the hotels around Los Angeles with lead pipes. You would sue various people and extract settlements from them.
I considered this work somewhat immoral because it seemed you were hurting businesses. But, I also saw an opportunity. One guy was doing this, and all the major law firms in Los Angeles were fighting him and paying him settlements. It was hilarious. The guy had not gone to a revered law school and was not a talented litigator.
It did not matter. He was doing something, and it worked. I knew that if I wanted to do this, I could and would make consumer actions like this my brand.
The point is, there are many things all around you that present an opportunity to develop your brand. You can promote a brand based on matters you have worked on, a specialty you have, and more. You need a brand — having a brand will make you more attractive to potential clients.
To promote your brand, you need to do whatever you can to get seen by potential clients. Things like joining organizations they are a part of and advertise if this is where they are likely to see you. Have a website that is easy to find when people search for advice. Have testimonials and write articles that are likely to enrich potential clients. Give talks to groups of potential clients. These are only a few ways of promoting your brand.
You need to have a brand that stands for something.
Years ago, I worked with a very ineffective attorney who had never done much with his career. He was a litigator and had $200,000 to $400,000 a year in business but never could move beyond that. He wanted to work with a large law firm, but I made it clear he would likely need around $1,000,000 in business.
This attorney had a strategy with clients I see often among attorneys who never get anywhere. He would bring in clients, generally through luck, and proceed to overbill. He would only look out for his best interests. He put on a friendly face and did whatever he could to make as much money as possible. He generally did not get effective results. As a consequence of this, he never got referrals and did not reach his potential.
To get cases, he made a big deal out of an "affiliation" he had. It does not matter whether this was his sexual orientation, race, or nationality — this was how he got cases. He made people trust him because of this affiliation. He proceeded to use this to gouge people and then would find more ready to give him work. His business never grew.
A better brand would be that you have helped people of a particular group in a specific type of matter. Promote how you help people. Stand for something (like children's' rights) — it is more effective than standing for members of a group regardless of their issues. You need to believe in something, be one of a few people who believe in it, and have others see you as an expert in that field.
A brand is not that you are an attorney. A brand is not that you went to a good law school. A brand is not that you worked in a big firm once. A brand is not that you are a member of a particular group based on your race, national origin, or sexuality.
All these things can be part of your brand -- but a brand they do not make.
If you want to define a brand, you need to think about what you can do for potential clients that others are not doing. Promote what you offer that others do not. You cannot be an "also-ran" attorney.
The results of being an "also-ran" attorney? A mediocre life and career. Being dependent on others for handouts. Never reaching your full potential.
If others regard you as someone unique and special, then you have a brand.
Johnnie Cochran was able to create an outstanding brand when he got OJ Simpson off. He used this brand to open offices in every city around the country. He stood out as someone who would defend people with all sorts of grievances, whether injured or wrongfully accused.
Gloria Allred has a brand as a woman's advocate. Jeffrey Fieger represented Jack Kervokian and developed this into a huge brand.
You may think that your "brand" is that you work for a big firm, went to a great law school, or did something special. You need a brand you can promote, and you need something special that interests potential clients.
Without that, you are an "also-ran" attorney with not much to promote. You will never make a lot of money; the work will go to attorneys with brands.
The good news? You can develop a brand wherever you are; but, you need to stand for something. Every attorney who makes a lot of money does.
2) You Need to Bring in Leads for Work
It should go without saying that having a brand is not enough by itself. You also need to promote your brand.
There are countless attorneys out there who think talent is enough. While this is important, it is meaningless if no one knows you exist.
You need to set aside several hours each week to promote your brand. Meet with potential clients, go to events, speak, write, cold call, network, and do whatever you can to get out there. If you do, people will know about you.
Early in my career, I rented office space from an attorney in his mid-50's in San Marino, California. He owned a ton of real estate and had done very well as a personal injury attorney. He went to NYU Law and had exceptional qualifications. But, his practice involved representing people who had been in a slip and fall.
One day, I spoke with his business manager (someone he had hired to help him run his affairs). I remarked that he had an advertisement on the back of my phone book, and I also saw him on a billboard outside of town. At the time, I was naive and was sort of amused by all this.
"The only way the phone keeps ringing and clients show up," he told me, "is when we are out there promoting ourselves. The second this stops, the business stops."
To have a successful practice, you need to develop a system for bringing in leads for work. You need to have an edge — something that is always bringing in new leads. People need someone like you, and if they know your brand they will turn to you for solutions. Are you are one of a few attorneys who can represent cell phone companies seeking to put towers on public land? This is a valuable skill and can benefit you. But, this means nothing unless you can steadily bring in leads for work.
In the past, I operated different companies — from student loans to an asphalt company. I can tell you nothing is more important than bringing in leads. This is among the most valuable skills I ever developed.
When I was twenty years old, I had an asphalt company where I employed several men in their 30's. I made much more money than they did because I was able to generate work for them to do. They were capable of doing the work, but bringing the work in was a separate skill and had greater rewards.
They did not need to do all the things I needed to do to bring in the work because they only did the work. As someone who brought in the work, I could choose whether I wanted to do it myself. I could also decide how much to pay others to do the work. I could pay people as much as I wanted to.
To bring in work, I had a brand that promised to do the work at a lower price, but the work had to be at a particular time each year.
As part of this brand, I had brochures, hundreds of references, and a phone number. I allowed people 30 days to pay invoices and also sold the product in person. I would dress up and go door-to-door in various neighborhoods selling my product each year. I would use nice vehicles and appear to be a successful, personable contractor.
This worked, and I generated a ton of business. But, I only created business because I went out several nights a week and put myself out there. I was not afraid to do this.
As an attorney, you need to get out there as well. You need to make contact with a lot of people, and they need to see you. You always need to be promoting yourself.
There is a story I have heard several times about Bill Clinton. When he was young, he would keep notecards of everyone he met and write down notes each night. Then he would check in with them and make periodic contact with them. By the time he became president, he had over ten thousand of these cards. Each of these people, in some way, helped him on his journey to becoming president. He was able to promote himself.
Every great lawyer promotes. One of the reasons I left the practice of law was because I could not wait to promote myself. I felt it was too complicated and would take too long to bring in clients in a law firm with billing rates that high.
My experience as an asphalt contractor taught me I could bring in work and promote myself. You need to be able to promote yourself if you are going to succeed as an attorney.
Most attorneys are happy only doing the work. The big rewards come to the promoters.
I spoke with a successful attorney who works for one of the most successful attorneys in the US. This attorney noted that the attorney he works for does not have an impressive record of winning. Instead, he had the ability to promote himself. He got involved in significant national cases and became seen. When you are out there promoting yourself, this is - sadly - often more important than your ability.
A personal injury attorney getting rich on advertisements on the sides of buses may not be that good. He most likely runs a "mill" bringing in a ton of work and settling cases for less than they are worth, never going to trial.
He does this day after day, without providing outstanding service to the injured who may be entitled to much larger settlements. The client does not know any better. While the client is not well served, the attorney is well served. They are doing well and getting rich only from doing such a great job of promoting themselves.
Without promotion, your skills are nothing.
- Why You Should Never Worry About Finding an Attorney Job
- To Succeed in Any Job You Need to Create Work
- You Need Connections to Make the Most of Your Career
3) You Need to Efficiently Convert Leads
If you are an attorney, the odds are that relatives, friends, and others will ask you for advice. The longer you practice, the more potential leads will come in as people have one issue or another. At the point that leads come in, you will need to become an expert in converting those leads and getting them to use you.
When I was at a high school graduation party, a friend of mine's father, who was hosting the party, was an attorney. He had gone to a lousy local Detroit law school but had a thriving business. His firm was representing people accused of DUIs, speeding, and other traffic infractions. At the party, he picked up at least two clients that I know of. I was almost a third.
I had received a ticket for something stupid I had done. It was for having a running television on my asphalt van dashboard while I drove down the street. I told him about this, and in no uncertain terms, he warned me. I could face jail time, a license suspension, and all sorts of issues if I did not involve him immediately. He wanted the number of my parents.
It scared the hell out of me. In reality, this was not a big deal at all. I ended up going to court, the policeman did not show up, and the case was dismissed. I doubt it would have resulted in many issues. After the party, the guy called me and left me a message. He was trying to convert me (a lead) into business.
Yet, two of my friends who approached him ended up getting their parents involved. They hired him to represent them for their traffic tickets. This likely resulted in a few thousand dollars in fees for the attorney. All because he knew how to convert leads into clients.
The biggest skill for an attorney is not having a brand or promoting yourself. It is knowing what to do with a lead once it comes in. You can get plenty of leads but if you do not do a good job converting them, the lead is worth nothing.
I was on a horseback riding trip recently with my children. There was a young woman on the tour who was talking to me the whole time. She told me a lot of personal information, laughed at my jokes, and I could tell she liked me. My children even picked up on it.
After the trip, I remembered that I had forgotten to give her a tip and called the ranch to get her Venmo number. When I called, the owner said something like the girl was "hoping I would call" and offered me the girl's phone number. I took it.
That was a "lead."
Had I texted the woman, I could have converted her and gotten her to go out with me, depending on what I said.
For example, texting her I thought she was beautiful and wanted to go out with her might work - or it might not. It would be better to strike up a slow conversation. If I told her I had a fascination with bats, goth art, and slept in a coffin, that would have blown the lead.
Had I called the woman and talked to her on the phone, that would have worked best. That would have put me out there more, made me more vulnerable, and made me more likely to get her attention.
Leads are best converted in person and with personal contact. There are all sorts of ways to convert leads, but the best methods involve taking time to get to know people. And listening.
I hire attorneys all the time for all manner of things. I generally make contact with them by phone, but the attorneys often "blow it" and do a bad job converting me as a lead. When attorneys get a lead, they make all sorts of mistakes.
First, they often do not listen. They will listen to a bit of my issue, and then when I am done, talk about their rates and tell me where to send a retainer. They will not make me feel heard and will give me no particular reason to use them.
Second, I have called many attorneys in the past to talk to them about my cases, and they have not returned my calls. I can think of several instances where I called attorneys with cases worth over $500,000, and a few attorneys I never heard back from.
Third, the attorneys give me no reason to use them. For example, they do not bond with me, do not talk about any unique expertise they have, how they can save me money, and so on.
I was in the middle of a costly and time-consuming divorce several months ago. I called someone recommended to me. After weeks of playing phone tag with the attorney (who was too busy to follow up with me), I reached the attorney. I told her I wanted to get the case settled and move on. She explained that she took almost all her cases to trial. She loved trial, but did settle them "if she thought it made sense." I did not like this.
When the attorney told me her high billing rate, I asked her if she had any associates. She told me she did all the work herself (including filings). She had no secretary because working on her own, she was very efficient. I did not like this either. She did not convert me.
People who come into an attorney's office as potential clients need to be converted. If an attorney does not convert, they will get far less work than they are capable of getting.
I once hired a famous yoga teacher to teach me. At the time, I paid my yoga teacher (who moved away) something like $80 for a 90-minute class. The yoga teacher I hired was $200 an hour. She told me that she would help me at the same rate.
After my first session with her, I realized I had never had a better class. I zoned out for an entire day and was wholly exhausted. Not from the physical aspect of the class but from the emotions it brought up and other effects.
After five or so classes, the teacher had amazed me. She told me she could no longer continue at a lower rate. I was "converted" and agreed. It was smart of her to work at a lower rate to start because if she had not done this, I would never have used her.
Another time I called an attorney for help with a case. He was of counsel at a top law firm and informed me his billing rate was over $1000. I asked him how he could justify this when most of the people I was speaking to were half this. He told me he worked for a giant firm, and this is what they charged. He had no other reason. He did not convert me.
The attorney I did hire for the work was $800 an hour. This attorney asked me to come into their office. They served me coffee, gave me a tour of the office, and introduced me to everyone who would be working on my case. They told me about their successes working with people like me and spent at least a few hours listening to my case. They also promised me that they would get me the result I wanted for a certain amount of money. This converted me.
Incredibly, when they did not get the result promised, they spent an extra $40,000 of their time without charging me. I remembered this. I told others about it. I referred others to them with this story, and these people were "pre-converted" when they came to them.
You need to convert leads when they come to you. People need to trust you and have a reason to trust you and want to work with you. You need to sell to them, make them feel like you care, and look out for their interests more effectively than others.
I used to get referrals from asphalt customers all the time. I would dress up and go to people's homes or businesses armed with brochures and references. I would tell them why they needed to use me and not someone else. I would make sure they did not say "I'll think about it," I met with them and converted them.
I would also contact them immediately because I knew they would want to contact other people. I would convert them first and leave no doubt in their minds I was the best choice. I would also offer them better pricing because they were a referral.
- Give People What They Want
- The Secret Career Tactic of “Lock In”
- Inexpensive Ways to Build Business Relationships
4) You Need to Recruit the Right People to Work for You (and as Many of Them as Possible)
If you are going to be a wealthy attorney, you will need to be able to recruit the right people to work for you.
Many attorneys never reach this stage. Others reach this stage and blow it.
It is never enough to be able to do the work yourself. As one person, you limit your potential
You limit the number of hours you can bill. You limit the size of the opponents you can represent your clients against. You limit the number of cases you can take on, and how much work you can do. Every job requires leverage and you must expand for you to create wealth.
When Jeff Bezos started Amazon, he hand-delivered all the book orders to the post office. If he were still doing this, he would not be the wealthiest person in the world. He grew his business by hiring others to do the work for him and getting the most talented and best people. This is what it took to build out the business. He needed lots of people doing the work.
The types of people you hire will determine the size of your firm and how much it grows. When you hire people to work for you, you need to hire the right people. There are right and wrong people to hire, and learning who is which takes trial and error.
If you are trying to run and grow a consumer bankruptcy firm, you need a different sort of person than a high-end bankruptcy firm.
Most successful law firms that grow have masterful leaders behind their recruiting efforts. In most cases, new law firms — even years into their growth when they may be 100+ attorneys — have name partners doing this work (it is that important).
I often receive calls from the best attorneys in the United States, telling me their law firms' needs. These attorneys want the best and take their recruiting seriously. The better the law firm, the higher they regard their recruiting. Partners, associates, and others represent potential profits for the firm. Hiring and attracting the best people is one of the most critical components of this. The best law firms that make the most money are serious about hiring the best attorneys. They are always recruiting.
One of the more profitable personal injury law firms in Texas is Thomas J. Henry Personal Injury Attorneys. This firm does all it can to reach recruiters, advertise, and spread the word about what it needs. They are always recruiting and looking for the best people.
Jackson Lewis is one of the best employment law firms in the United States. They recruit all the time. They have recruited away my recruiters because they want internal recruiters.
The same goes for Fisher & Phillips, another great employment firm that has recruited away my recruiters. The same goes for White & Case, an excellent international law firm that has done the same. I am not angry with these firms for taking my people — I commend it. They know that people are essential components of running a great law firm that makes a lot of money.
If you are going to be a wealthy attorney, you must always be recruiting and prioritizing this above all. There are tons of great law firms around Los Angeles run by one person doing a fantastic job of recruiting.
One such firm is Jeffer Mangels (another law firm that has recruited away my recruiters), run by Bruce Jeffer. They have an amazing reputation, do great work, and was grown by Bruce through his ability to focus on recruiting. He has become very successful in the process.
Quinn Emanuel had Bill Urquhart for years who recruited attorneys. Since Bill's death, John Quinn himself meets with recruiters to bring in the best people. Recruiting the best people is all that matters. The best law firms and the wealthiest attorneys are very, very good at this.
If you are going to be a prosperous attorney, you need to become very good at recruiting attorneys. Or, hire people to do it for you.
You need to appeal to attorneys to work for you, the same as you appeal to clients. You need to give people reasons to work for you as opposed to working for a larger firm at their start.
You can attract using money, experience, independence, partnership opportunity, the quality of attorneys, the ability to work remotely, and a lack of bureaucracy. All you need to do is look around and see the variety of ways law firms attempt to distinguish themselves to get people to work there.
Law firms need to appeal to the market of attorneys out there, which is as important as bringing in the work. Unless you have lots of people to do the work, you will never be as wealthy as possible.
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5) You Need to Effectively Manage the People Doing the Work for You
Many law firms can start-up and hire good people, but cannot manage the people working for them. If people are not managed effectively, they will not be happy and will not work effectively. This gives the firm a bad reputation, and the firm will collapse.
Law firms have all sorts of systems for managing people. Attorneys starting as young associates with eight to twelve years to make partner is itself a form of management. This forces attrition and creates hungry junior associates. It also creates opportunities for those coming up the ranks. Partners, associates, and others are then reviewed and compensated accordingly — hopefully without creating widespread resentment and revolt.
Managing a firm is a science, and doing so effectively is not easy. You cannot grow a firm unless you learn to manage the people working there. Some law firms stay in one city because their leaders do not know how to manage several offices. This constrains their long-term earning power. Other law firms expand and do a poor job managing people there, and this hurts them.
Many law firms that expand and become very successful have effective managers helping with the issues that come up. If people are going to work for you, you need to manage them well.
Management is difficult. It requires the right kind of human resources and the ability to make effective decisions. It requires being able to keep people motivated, push out those who hurt the firm, and bring others who help.
If you are new to management, join groups of other entrepreneurs, take management classes, and learn everything you can. Management skills are extremely valuable. Most successful managers have mentors, mentorship groups, and others who have helped them — whether it is Vistage, YPO, or another organization. You need to learn how to manage the attorneys and staff that work for you.
6) You Need to be Able to Profit Off of the People and Systems You Set Up to Do the Work
Many attorneys set up firms, bring in work, and recruit attorneys. They even manage the people who work there, but they cannot profit from the people and systems they have.
The list of law firms that have failed by paying too much to partners, associates, and others is huge. From Finely Kumble to Dewey Ballantyne, to Heller Ehrman, to Drier Stein. Law firms have failed by paying people too much. You need to control your expenses and profit from your people if you are to do well as an attorney.
You need to pay people as little as possible to do as much work as possible so you can profit as much as possible. That is how the game works. The best law firms set limits. Other law firms play games with compensation. Some law firms get fat, pay people too much, then lay off tons of people when they have issues sustaining.
Law firms exist to make money. Law firms that spend too much on office space and labor make bad business decisions and go out of business. Or they cut salaries to stay afloat and pay their people less than they should. To control expenses, many law firms hire lots of staff attorneys, outsource their work, and do other things to keep the businesses running.
Conversely, the more you pay the people working for you, the better people you will be able to attract. With this, your law firm looks better to potential clients, and your recruiting will be easier. Most of the best law firms can recruit the best talent because they pay well and have other good people there.
7) You Need to Repeat and Refine the Process Over and Over Again
Once you develop a business model (above), you need to keep refining the process. This means new ways to generate business, recruit attorneys, and build your brand.
For example, a Yellow Pages advertisement may have worked decades ago. Today people use the Internet in its place. So an internet ad can be much more effective. All sorts of older attorneys went out of business because they never refined their business generation methods. The same goes for old styles of management, compensation, and more.
Business models all go stale over time. You need to change constantly. Bring in new ideas, do not isolate yourself from them. Continuously question each of the six methods above. Maintain a relevant brand and do not allow it to become irrelevant.
Most brands die over time because they do not stay on top of each of these things above. If you are going to make a fortune practicing law, you need to track each of these.
You will make the most money practicing law if you:
- have a good brand,
- attract work,
- have other people working for you, and
- manage the process well.
This is the most basic road map to success.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.