I came across a great post today by Jim Hassett, author of “Legal Business Development.”
In his current blog post, Marketing advice for Harvard Law School students (Part 1 of 2), Mr. Hassett lays out the scenario facing current law students, whether they are from Harvard, NYU, UCLA or anywhere else:
Like everyone else these days, law students are worried about the economy. As if law school wasn’t stressful enough, now students have to plan their futures against a backdrop of law firm layoffs, pay cuts, and delayed start dates.
No one knows whether these changes are temporary, or whether they reflect the beginning of a paradigm shift in the way lawyers do business. Either way, they call attention to the importance of a topic that is rarely discussed in law school: how marketing is related to long term success. Your success in the first critical years of your career will probably have more to do with your relationships and marketing skills than with anything you’ve learned about civil procedure, property, contracts or torts.
And if you go into private practice, marketing could become a matter of life and death. Whether you end up at a firm with hundreds or thousands of lawyers or at a small boutique, your firm’s health will depend on a steady flow of new business.
The economic crisis has raised the stakes. In its 2009 client advisory, Hildebrandt International notes that “the current economic downturn in the legal market is likely to be deeper and longer than any we have seen in the last two decades.” Hildebrandt also predicts that in the future “the right economic model for success could well be a firm with relatively fewer associates and partners than today, but with expanded categories of other lawyers (some of whom would be temporary or project specific).” What does that mean to you? Less job security, and more need for personal marketing.
If this is the scenario facing our current students, what’s the solution?
There are many. But first and foremost, I always coach young associates that law is not only a profession, it is a business. Big Business at the mega-firms. With revenues over $2 billion at Skadden and Latham, how can it be anything but?
Yet, many students and young associates do not realize that the day of the institutionalized client is gone. No longer is the client passed down from senior partner to junior partner. Gone are the days when you can work the files, do a great job, and make partner in 7 (10 or 12) years. Service partners, while serving a needed role, are “out.” Rainmakers are “in.”
In my professional role, I have provided the marketing department’s orientation to both 1st year associates and summer associates. I would talk about marketing and business development, how the firm is a $X million business, and if they want to make partner, they need to realize that BUSINESS is a key component.
I and would then look about the room and watch as these young “professionals” tapped on their newly issues BlackBerrys, rolling their eyes, and staring out the windows bored. Yet, in every room, there would be one or two people hanging on every word. THOSE were the future rainmakers and partners in our firm. THOSE were the kids who always volunteered, hung out in my office, actually read the e-mails I circulated.
As individuals, we cannot do anything about the economy. As associates (or marketing professionals) we have little control over the business of our law firms. But, we can do something about our personal careers. We can take charge of our lives and our careers. We can take time everyday “marketing me.”
The next couple years promises to be a bumpy ride for many. Yet, there are also opportunities for those who put down the BlackBerry and iPhone and engage in the solutions.