There’s something to be said for self-deprecating humor; those jokes meant to clear the air, or add levity to a stressful situation. We legal professionals have been known to enjoy a good lawyer joke, or game, or two.

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I tell my kids, all the time, you can’t say something mean and throw a “just joking” at the end to make what you said okay.

There’s always truth behind those “jokes” my kids make, and there is truth behind attorney jokes. But this is business, big business, and other businesses and lives are at stake. And that’s no joking matter.

Here’s the truth: the “business of law” is tough.

Working with lawyers can be challenging for legal professionals, the client, and the lawyer.

Lawyers didn’t go to law school to run a business, but that’s what they do whether they are a solo practitioner, or a partner in a firm of any size. With no business training, many lawyers find themselves at the helm of a business generating tens of millions, and in some cases, billions of dollars each year. Their training and innate personalities often times is in conflict with running a business, or counseling a client who is running a business.

Every day corporate clients look to lawyers for business solutions. Specifically, general counsel are charged with how to get their company’s products (or services) to market; to make deals happen; to make litigation go away.

While the GC is looking for certainty, they too often get back from their lawyers anything but that. Lawyers can’t help it. It’s what they learned in law school and is deeply ingrained in who they are.

I was brainstorming with a friend recently about his business and some of the challenges he’s facing in the market place. At one point in his life he was a practicing attorney, and it began to show. Long story short, his inner lawyer kept coming out to challenge my ideas: “We tried that before.” “It won’t work.” “Our competitors …”

Throughout the meeting he kept me on my toes, sharpening my ideas as I circumvented his objections. It was a bit exhausting, yet he reminded me that while working with lawyers is challenging, it is also very rewarding, and makes me a better thinker/idea generator.

I work with very smart people, every day, who don’t realize that by challenging me and trying to poke holes in EVERY idea I have, just makes me better at what I do.

Legal marketing is like a box of chocolates.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, you just never know what you’re gonna get with a legal marketer. There is no standard of excellence or craft amongst my profession.

Legal marketers come in different shapes, sizes, and skill sets. Some of us are strategic leaders, others are task-masters. A JD, MBA, or Masters in Law Firm Management does not necessarily let a law firm know what they are getting; neither does former law firm pedigree or title. Simply because someone worked at (insert name of any AmLaw 100 firm) doesn’t mean that they were effective, or strategic, or creative. I know of one CMO who has been fired from three well-regarded AmLaw 25 firms, always landing a new and better job because of the firms on their resume.

In my 19 years of legal marketing, my skills in EQ have been more important than IQ when it comes to effectively doing my job, but I get hired for IQ more often than EQ. How to balance those is the challenge.

BTI’s recent study/blog post, Half of CMOs on Road to Burnout, sums up well the challenge facing the the leaders of marketing departments: while demand for our services is up within the firm, the work is often task-focused, taking us away from the strategy that provides the fuel that keeps us going.

Once again. Balance.

Balance between tasks and strategy. Balance between EQ and IQ. Balance between it’s a profession and it’s a business.

Lawyers know thyself. And thy client.

The world continues to change. How business is conducted continues to change. The needs of our clients continues to change.

Lawyers HATE change.

From Dr. Larry Richard’s The Mind of the Lawyer Leader:

The nature of the lawyer’s work, and how, over time, that produces a problem focused mindset, can serve to amplify the negative consequences of change and uncertainty. What kind of person would not only be attracted to the world of practicing law but actually find it satisfying and sustaining over the long term? Perhaps someone with a specific set of personality traits that is well suited to that kind of negative job.

My research of more than 20 years concerning the personality traits of lawyers consistently shows that the No. 1 trait that differentiates lawyers from others is a very high level of something called skepticism. Lawyers can score 30 to 40 percent higher on this trait than the general public. Thus it’s not only the work that produces the mindset; that mindset gets reinforced every day by the natural personality of the person doing the work.

This study has been around since the beginning of my legal marketing career, and it still holds truth. Yet within these numbers are many different types of lawyers:

  • Some lawyers are naturally good business developers and intuitively know how to make rain and lead a team.
  • Some have the instinct, but need to be taught the skills.
  • Others will never be able to go against their natural grain and will self-select themselves into certain practice areas or positions where they will not have to work to develop business.
  • And others will only succeed so far within a private practice. They are not going to be rainmakers, but they can very well become an incredibly valued service partner and leader within the firm. And that skill set can be taught as well.

It all comes down to self-awareness, and the ability to see yourself and how you interact with those around you.

Next post: The truth behind lawyer jokes (Part 2): The glass is leaking

  • Timothy B. Corcoran

    I, too, have learned to sharpen my skills as a direct result of working with and for very smart people who may not know as much as I on a given topic, but their built-in skepticism has forced me to better articulate and defend my position. And this is why I no longer believe the “Lawyers hate change” credo. Of course, SOME hate change, just as some pompously assume they always know better because “Equity Partner = unquestioned expert on all topics.” I don’t waste any of my valuable time with them. but I’ve learned that most lawyers simply need to see and hear a more convincing argument that an alternative approach is better than their current approach. This is why my consulting is based on economics and data… while money doesn’t motivate everyone, it’s a lot easier to prove with real data that Plan B makes more money and makes clients happier than Plan A than to have a vague, esoteric, and philosophical discussion with someone trained to poke holes. The lawyers can still choose to pursue the sub-optimal path, but it’s not because they won the argument or know better. It’s because they choose stasis and comfort and “the devil you know” over change and disruption and greater rewards.