“Boy, they sure didn’t teach me this in law school.” How often do we hear these words from the mouths of rookie lawyers? Like so many other professions, the difference between law school and the “real world” is almost like being on two different planets. Most law schools train their focus so heavily on the academics of the law itself that they forget to teach people how to be lawyers. We could blunt the edges of the so-called “school of hard knocks” and save new lawyers quite a bit of pain simply by adding the following basic courses to our law school curricula.
Many new attorneys start out working for larger, existing firms with the dream of “making partner” someday—but what about the ones who decide to start their own firms? Unfortunately, the vast majority of law schools fail to teach things like office management, project management and handling finances—the practical tools any law firm needs in order to succeed. As a result, many lawyers starting their own firms either struggle on for years or fail miserably. All this pain could be avoided by teaching the basic principles of operating a firm.
Young lawyers often have the mentality that people will magically seek out their services if they just hang out their “attorney at law” shingle. The truth is, a law firm is a business like any other business, and no business succeeds without an effective sales and marketing strategy. If new attorneys understood these principles coming out of law school instead of having to learn them “on the ground,” they could build their client bases and start thriving much more quickly.
Here’s a secret: Your clients don’t really care about how much you know about the law—they presume that part is covered. Your clients want to be listened to. One of the most common errors made by new attorneys is that they don’t know how to make a client feel heard—instead they gloss over the details listening for certain keywords so they can present a formulaic answer. These lawyers have difficulty keeping clients until they learn this skill the hard way. Why don’t law schools just include this training before turning new attorneys loose on the world?
Hand in hand with the prior point—behind every legal problem, criminal charge, divorce case or conundrum are actual, real people with real feelings. Unfortunately, law schools tend to crank out new bar candidates without teaching them any basic people skills, and the result is that these new people tend to see cases rather than clients. A case is a one-time project; a client can last a lifetime. Lawyers need to know how to deal compassionately with the people behind the legal problems—how to show empathy, have difficult conversations and come up with creative solutions. If law schools taught these principles more diligently, we’d see a lot more compassionate lawyers in this world, and a lot lower client turnover.
A disconcerting study by the American Bar Association found that 20.6 percent of lawyers tend to consume dangerous levels of alcohol, 23 percent showed unhealthy stress and 28 percent exhibited depression. Part of the reason is that ours is a business of trauma. We spend long days working with people who are sometimes going through horrible situations, and many of us don’t know how to disengage from that trauma at the end of the day. Instead, we take it home and internalize it, which often leads to the personal issues described above. One of the most important things law schools could teach is how to maintain a healthy inner life in the midst of helping people through difficult situations.
Truth be told, if more law schools taught these five things, a lot few lawyers would need my services. That said, if you feel like you’re missing key ingredients in running your law firm successfully, we are here to help. Give us a call at (888) 375-2573.