Bob Glaves, executive director for the Chicago Bar Foundation, set off quite a Twitter discussion this week with his post, A New Year’s Resolution for the Legal Profession: Stop Calling People Non-lawyers! We even carried the discussion onto my Facebook group, Legal Marketers Extraordinaire (which topped 1000 members this week!). Inspiring Bob to write the post was something he heard Jordan Furlong say:

we are the only profession who describes everyone who is not one of us as a “non.”

[Jordan’s] right. You don’t hear doctors calling everyone else in the medical field “non-doctors,” or CPAs calling their colleagues “non-CPAs.” In fact, it sounds absurd to even imagine them or any other professionals doing that. Yet that’s exactly what we do as lawyers, and I have certainly been guilty of my share of it over the years.

Lawyers aren’t enough

Bob goes on to describe all the roles necessary to make a law firm function:

There are so many different professionals who contribute to a successful law practice today that I am sure I would forget some if I tried to name them all. In a larger law firm you increasingly will find a team of management, finance and administrative professionals; professionals dedicated to marketing and communications, technology, pricing, project management, analytics, and more; paralegals and other people dedicated to legal and operational support; and many outside consultants. Sometimes the people in these roles happen to also be lawyers, but it is generally more of a coincidence when that is the case; the kinds of experience and expertise these other professionals bring to the table is very different from what lawyers bring.

Of course, I want an Amen! for Bob’s post. Hell, I wrote about this back in 2014, “Non-lawyer” is NOT a word. More fallout from Opinion 642.

For a profession that can literally live or die by the comma, the word “non-lawyer” is tossed about to describe anyone without (or in some cases with) a JD  working in any capacity within a law firm. Yet “non-lawyer” isn’t a word.

Not only is it not a word, it is not a labor category via the EEOC.

Not only is it not a labor category, I can’t find it as a job title via Monster.com or CareerBuilder.

Yet, time and time again, those of us working in the legal industry as business professionals are lumped together as “non-lawyers.”

While Catherine Alman MacDonagh beat me to the punch with this prescient piece from 2006, No Nons Sense.

Let’s start off the New Year right – let’s resolve to address the legal industry’s pervasive “NONS” SENSE.

Where else is it acceptable to refer to team members as a NON (as in NON LAWYER)? It’s a practice that is demoralizing and destructive. It is contrary to everything we are trying to accomplish with our sales and service initiatives.

The climate has never been more competitive. Clients are sophisticated buyers and they expect their lawyers to be stellar technicians. We also understand that they’re demanding (rightfully so) that their law firms provide them with excellent service. As a result, there is increasing pressure for the firm as a whole to deliver at every level. As we all know, everything a firm does eventually touches the client.

With that in mind, firms had better get serious about changing their attitudes and actions with respect to the people employed by the firm (translation: “non-partners”). For those who are in other industries or who are new to legal, it’s hard to believe: law firm business professionals still aren’t yet universally viewed valued members of the team, irrespective of their MBAs, JDs, and other impressive credentials.

It’s a business

Law firms are businesses and should be run as businesses. Period. All of us have a role to play. With nearly 20 years invested as a legal marketer, I bring a certain set of job skills and abilities to my firm that a lawyer cannot do, fulfill, or accomplish.

I had my review yesterday, and it is great walking out of a room knowing I am a valued member of a team. If anyone at my firm called me a “non-lawyer” you betcha this Legal Marketer Extraordinaire would have no problems correcting that statement (in a very nice way ;-).

It’s competitive out there

The more sophisticated a firm, the more competitive a firm approaches their business market, the more in need they are of an A-team of legal industry professionals. You guys and gals are not the easiest group to work with, believe me. It takes a certain acumen to be a successful professional in-house at a law firm, and not all legal marketers, strategists, or financiers can do it. We deserve the same respect as any other valued member of your team. All of us are there with one common purpose: to make the law firm profitable. Lawyers provide the service to the client, we legal industry professionals provide the framework for you to be able to focus in on that work.

We legal professionals come to your firms with decades of experience, Masters and PhD degrees in our verticals and law practice management. We are your A-team. We are here to assist you, support you, run your business so you can practice law and provide the best service to your clients. As Jerry Maguire says:

So, please join me as we make 2017 the year we finally “Ban the Non.”

  • Political correctness run amok. Have you all nothing better to do? Like serving clients, and representing them? Non lawyer is a perfectly innocent way to distinguish between law trained and not law trained persons for legitmate puposes. I have better things to do (ie. represent clients) than to spend time worrying about how my descriptive language will be interpreted by the language police. You are offended by the term? Methinks you protest too much.