Law Firm Management, 1984-2004

4 Feb ’05

The always interesting Bruce MacEwen has a post on trends 1984-2004 in law practice management, based on an article by John Smock, co-founder of Smock Sterling Strategic Management Consultants outside Chicago.  Money quotes:

  • "Law firms used to be in denial that they are businesses; no longer so.
  • Work of impeccably high quality was thought to be all that was needed to win clients; firms now recognize that’s merely the price of admission.
  • "Marketing" was a dirty word; although to some extent this remains the case, enlightened firms are realizing its true value if it is premised on a keen  understanding of client needs.
  • "Finally, law firm management was just not very good—primarily because it did not have to be," but now management is far more professional and non-lawyers play pivotal roles.

    What drove or forced these changes?

Competition."

I take the point that there is still resistance to marketing.  I think several reasons are behind this:

  • First, my years in big firms taught me that many people there don’t really like what they do; and many going through the system see the first 10 or so years as time to push through those years so they can get past the ‘unpleasant’ part and move on to being relationship managers, doing "high-level" thinking and taking meetings.  You can’t sell what you don’t love.  Not really.  And you certainly aren’t going to be driven if you don’t care deeply about what you do;
  • Second, life in the large firms is designed to teach you that you are really, really special.  And special people don’t like getting their hands dirty with the business of law;
  • Third, many lawyers were the quiet, bookish kids in school.  Try as hard as they can, through no fault of their own, they can’t sell.  Ever.  They need help;
  • Fourth, the large law firms don’t like marketing.  Not really.  Because it encourages competition.  And they don’t like competition.  Not really.  Because it drives prices down and creates the pressure to change.  And they don’t like price efficiency and change.  Not really.  That’s why lawyers have rules preventing us from comparing our prices or our services to each other (they are after all, instituted by bar associations that are heavily influenced by the large law firms).  Not to maintain a decorum, or to protect the administration of justice from disrepute.  Not really (you could adequately regulate this by simply prohibiting advertising that brought the administration of justice into disrepute).  No, we have these kinds of rules because they protect power from disruptive change.  They protect the old from the new.  And any industry that has rules to protect itself from the new cannot market.  Not really.

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