“Law is a profession and not a business,” or so the refrain goes. Much of the criticism about portraying the practice of law as a business revolves around a concern that this depiction elevates the generation of revenue above the provision of client service. As a profession, it is premised that the law is a calling, and therefore the welfare of the client and of those who are in need of legal services is of utmost priority. As a business, the practice of law requires a focus on the viability and sustainability of the legal practice.
The question follows whether this focus inhibits proper attention to the provision of legal services. It does not and need not. Recognition of a legal practice as a business in no way diminishes the importance of the calling of the lawyer in the servicing of a client. What it does do, however, is acknowledge that a legal practice is just like any other business in that it must become financially viable, self-sustaining, organized and efficient in order for its owner, the lawyer, to be available to serve the client with support and limited distractions.
In response to the refrain, the practice of law is not a business but the operation of the practice is. Attention to the business—that is, talent recruitment and management, practice skills and leadership development, budgeting and forecasting, and sales and marketing—is critical for a successful legal practice. When practice operations are sufficiently and appropriately attended to, the lawyers in that practice have the freedom and flexibility to focus on the diverse needs of their client base and target market. Attention to the business of the practice also reduces the firm’s malpractice risk. Reduced malpractice risk translates into less distraction for the lawyer, who can now devote more time and energy to providing the best service to the client.
The mere fact that one is a lawyer does not mean that the professional is a businessperson. Neither the J.D. nor a license to practice law sufficiently equips the lawyer to start and operate a legal practice. Interestingly, even seasoned lawyers are often found to be deficient in business skills. Increasingly, this has become apparent in this new economy, with lawyers languishing because of the lack of business skills necessary to strategically guide their firms through difficult times. A look at recent law firm failures in the news would find the majority of downfalls a consequence of business failure, not the result of malpractice or legal error. What a lawyer does not know does indeed hurt the lawyer and the law firm.
Accordingly, it behooves all lawyers—whether self-employed as a solo or in group practice, or even as an employee—to acknowledge the significance of the business of the practice. The business provides stability and support, laying a foundation for calculated and sustained revenue generation, thus allowing the attorney to develop into the best legal representative a client can engage. LPM appreciates the significance of business operations to the professional and personal well-being of the attorney. The goal of LPM is to equip the practitioner with the tools and resources needed to envision, develop and implement best practices for the law firm. This issue of Law Practice is replete with information that will assist the attorney in developing those best practices. Additionally, our website, books and webzine articles, webinars and teleconferences provide for great, easily accessible information. If you have not done so already, make a point to come to one of our meetings, where you can meet and network with legal professionals who are committed to finding and implementing solutions to the problems practitioners face in everyday practice. We look forward to serving you.