Michael Zolno had a great comment to a recent post of mine, Law Firm Layoff Tragedy, which I would like to share in its entirety:

I too want to express my condolences to the family and friends of Mr. (Mark) Levy. But I also want to do something else, ask – How did this come to pass? How does a legally talented attorney come to such a place in his life?

Does the fault lie with the law school system that fails to prepare attorneys adequately for what is involved in the practice of law may as well the business of law? Even though for Mr. Levy it was over twenty five years ago, has the system changed? Not from what I see, read and hear.

Does the fault lie with the big firm system that entices people who have legal practice expertise, abilities, with much higher compensation than their government positions? Positions that are not judged by ones “book of business” or ability to “make rain”, rather, for the most part, by ones demonstrated legal ability. The firm pays much better, but at the same time expecting salesmanship (“rainmaking’ is such an interesting avoidance of the actual task) from someone who rarely has such a skill set. Further, they seldom provide the means, time and money, or training (mentoring) needed to make such legal experts into adequate salespeople. I guess they’ll just sprinkle them with “rain making dust.” When the appropriate “book of business” does not somehow magically appear – Poof! – the attorney vanishes.

Will this tragedy lead to change? Real change? Thoughts of change? Or, just a certain amount of “how terrible … but you know … big law is a rough and tumble world.”

Does it have to be?

Michael is spot on.

I have seen many a partner float to the top, only to come crashing down because his or her practice specialty was no longer “hot.”

There are no safety nets in place to catch these talented attorneys, retrain them in a different legal specialty, and/or introduce them into the non-legal workforce. I’m not even going to raise the topic of all those highly intelligent, well educated attorneys who have been shed along the way due to their “non-productivity.”

So, what’s the solution? From my vantage point we can begin with these:

  • Law firms, law schools, and BAR ASSOCIATIONS need to acknowledge and support business development as part of the practice of law. They need to teach, train and support marketing and business development at all levels, from the 1Ls to the senior partners.
  • Marketing and business development activities and training need to be eligible for CLE credits. Without these skills, a lawyer’s success is usually by chance and luck. Why not provide them with the tools to effectively bring in the business, year after year?
  • Marketing and business development “non-billable” hours need to be elevated in importance as the almighty “billable” hour, and treated as such during compensation reviews EVERY year, for every level of attorney.
  • Marketing and business development budgets need to be seen as “investments” in client relationships as opposed to “cost centers” which can be quickly slashed to increase the profits hitting the bottom line.
I recently heard from a former Big Law colleague who noted that that one of the HOTTEST practices in the firm has stalled, including their top rainmakers. No new business. No new clients. Nada.

The lead partners were seen as “rainmakers” in my day, but, in reality, they were just in the right place, at the right time. How many partners are out there like that??

How many partners think what they are doing is making rain, when, in reality, they’ve just been standing under the right cloud?