What follows is the foreword I wrote for Tiger Tactics, a book by LabCon alum and two-time podcast guest (episodes 53 and 155) Billie Tarascio, plus Ryan McKeen, William Umansky, Theresa DeGray, and Jay Ruane.
This book is a collection of hard-won advice based on the authors’ real-world successes and failures as law firm leaders. This book is as much or more about running a business as it is about running a law firm.
If the idea that your law firm is also a business makes you uncomfortable, don’t bother reading this book. This book is for law firm leaders who understand that a law firm must also be a business if it is to be successful.
Running a law firm business does not mean abandoning your professional ethics. Quite the opposite, it means scrupulously observing your ethical duties while solving clients’ problems efficiently and effectively. It may also mean a lower risk of ethical complaints since many common complaints are due to bad business management, not bad lawyering. When clients complain that their lawyer isn’t sufficiently communicative, or charges too much, or appropriated their trust funds, they implicate business functions, not legal acumen.
Show me a well-run law firm, and I will show you a well-run business. This book is about both.
In law practice, there is an abundance of advice but a serious lack of real-world success stories.
When I started Lawyerist, the lack of real-world success stories was one of the main reasons. I had already hung my own shingle and was networking like crazy, and everyone I talked with made it sound like they were raking in money … until I pressed for details. Everyone talked a big game, but few of the lawyers I talked with had any real data to back up their claims.
And it turns out most lawyers are not killing it. Most lawyers are working their tails off for a modest paycheck. Maybe that is why most of the conventional wisdom you hear from lawyers about what works is not all that helpful. Most lawyers don’t know what works. They just know what keeps the lights on. Barely.
More than that, the conventional wisdom is outdated and getting more out of date every day. During the last decade, the legal market has undergone profound changes. Clients are looking for lower-cost legal solutions that meet their expectations formed by experiences shopping with Amazon Prime, finding restaurants in Google Maps, getting rides across town with Uber, socializing on Facebook, and more. Products and services are moving online and onto our phones, delivered on-demand. They are increasingly built with a strong emphasis on design and user experience. Can you think of any law firms that meet those expectations? Few come close, and the traditional law firm business model looks increasingly archaic in the modern world.
What it took to build a successful solo or small firm ten years ago isn’t what it takes to build a successful firm today, or what it will take to build a successful firm in ten years.
Enter the modern small-firm lawyer who just wants to know what it takes to be successful. Most lawyers don’t know because most aren’t successful. Many lawyers who are successful now built their firms in a completely different market, and their advice doesn’t necessarily translate to the market and consumer expectations of today.
Enter Tiger Tactics, a collection of best practices gleaned from the personal experiences of a handful of carefully selected lawyers. It is full of thoughtful reflection and well-earned advice, not chest-thumping bravado. The authors don’t just talk about their successes; they also own up to their failures. Successful lawyers experiment and sometimes fail, in order to figure out what works.
We don’t agree on all points because we each face different business realities.
The authors sometimes contradict one another because in business there are no easy answers. Which doesn’t mean lawyers aren’t looking for them. One of the most common questions we get from lawyers new to the Lawyerist community is “Does X work?” As in “Does Facebook work?” or “Does BNI work?” or “Is Y good software?”
There are no easy answers.
The answer to each of the above questions and nearly every other question you may have about law and business is it depends. Everything works for someone. Whether it will work for you and your clients or fit into your business strategy is a different question entirely. You can get closer to an answer by asking smarter, more specific questions. For social networking, for example, you can study best practices, seek out lawyers who seem to be succeeding in a similar practice area, market, and that are a similar size to your firm, and ask them about their results, their successes, and failures.
But often you just have to try something in order to see if it works for you, test your experiment, evaluate your results, and experiment again. Through this process, each firm will discover what works for that firm, improve over time, adjust to changed circumstances, and take advantage of new opportunities.
Security experts say trust but verify. Similarly, there is good advice in this book, but you should not follow it blindly. Especially since two authors may have two different recommendations. What you must do is see if their advice is right for your firm. Try it, test it, and evaluate the results.
Use this book to guide your initial experiments as you define what success means for you and your law firm.
[T]he bad news: … there is no modern business model for law firms.
There is a business model for traditional law firms. Ask any solo or small firm lawyer for it. Just about anyone can tell you the main points. Ignore for a moment the trends shaping the practice of law and consider what that traditional business model has accomplished.
Lawyers are at the top of the charts for substance abuse, depression, and suicide. Working at a law firm has been called one of the most miserable jobs in America. According to the National Association for Law Placement, about half of lawyers make $40–65,000. Lawyering is a hard way to make a modest living.
If that sounds good to you, put this book down and pursue the traditional business model. Come back if it stops working for you. But if you wonder whether maybe there is a better way, don’t worry about the fact that there isn’t a blueprint for modern law firms. That’s a feature, not a bug.
And there are powerful trends shaping the practice of law, after all. The traditional business model isn’t well suited to lower fees, meeting changed consumer expectations or competing with lawyer alternatives. And it certainly doesn’t offer much to consumers who would rather not hire a lawyer in the first place.
Lawyers right now have an opportunity to build healthier law firms that people love to work for, that clients love to work with, and that solve problems—not necessarily just legal problems—in a way traditional firms haven’t even tried to do. There is no business model because the business model for your law firm is itself what you need to invent.
Start with a vision for your law firm that everyone at the firm shares. Make it big and ambitious and exciting. State your values and hold one another accountable for measuring up to them. Use them to hire, manage, and fire so that you have an A+ team going after your ambitious vision. Set goals and start building the law firm business you think the world needs. Experiment, test, evaluate, and repeat until you succeed or fail on your own terms, just like the authors in this book are doing.
Keep reading for more inspiration.