What is a New Modern Lawyer?
Times are changing. We live in an always-on, self-service world. And the legal profession is having a hard time keeping up. The traditional law firm model just doesn’t work as well anymore, as seen by the hiring freezes, heightened partnership requirements, and lawyer layoffs. More and more lawyers, both newly minted and seasoned veterans, are turning to their own practices, whether by choice or by force.
The New Modern Lawyer™ is the attorney who is able to succeed in the ever-changing world. He or she is:
- Adaptable in that they acknowledge the changes around them (both legal-specific as well as world-wide) and are comfortable and well-positioned to not just deal with but take advantage of those changes.
- Client-focused in that they realize that the practice of law is about people and relationships. You can have the greatest marketing plan and all the tech tools you want, but none of that matters but for the work you do for your clients. The role of marketing, technology, etc. is to enhance the work you do and the client’s experience – it is not the end-all-be-all.
- Forward-thinking in that they are proactive rather than reactive. They take the time to think about the future needs of their clients, their practice, and the profession, and understand this as the best way to serve and be successful.
What is the purpose of this site?
The purpose of this site is to provide information and resources for lawyers who are starting or operating a small firm or solo law practice. Law school teaches how to do legal research, write pleadings and briefs, and “think like a lawyer.” However, law school does not teach the business of running a law practice. This site strives to be that missing law school class.
What to expect
Our focus is on providing you, the solo or small firm practitioner, with relevant information and helping to make your law practice as successful as possible. This will take place in various forms, from informational articles and courses to one-on-one coaching.
I went to law school with the dream of becoming a judge. Watching television and movies had led me to believe that judges were treated with respect in both their courtrooms and the community, and I thought I’d like to receive that kind of respect too. Plus I imagined presiding over trials would be fun.
I knew that you needed to practice law for a while before you could be a judge, so my plan following law school was to work in a small to mid-sized law firm for about 5-7 years so I could learn how to practice law. Then I would join with a couple of my law school classmates and we would start our own firm. After a while at that I would focus on getting an open judicial seat, always having my law firm position to fall back on.
Unfortunately, the job market coming out of law school sucked.
Being a newly admitted lawyer, I scoured the legal job postings and sent out resumes to every job I thought I was even remotely qualified for. Finally, after three months of waiting for an interview, and with student loans soon to become due, my girlfriend told me I needed to stop waiting around for a job and do something to make some money. So my solo career began.
I imagine my law school experience was much like that of most others: you read through hundred-year-old cases with confusing fact patterns, are taught how to do legal research and write a brief, and learn how to “think like a lawyer.” With few exceptions, such as my time working in the legal clinic, at no time did I actually learn how to practice law.
I learned how to start a law practice through sheer trial and error.
And the guy across the hall, who was a law school classmate of mine and an intentional solo. The hours I spent helping him open his office when I was waiting for those job interviews formed the foundation for what I knew about starting a business. Because that is what a law firm is – a business.
It was because of that classmate that I learned how to set up phone service and get a telephone number for my practice. He had a rudimentary website he used to try to get clients, so I learned how to set up my own rudimentary website. He took me to his banker and helped me get set up with bank accounts, including an IOLTA, and a firm credit card.
At that point nobody was really teaching lawyers how to start and successfully run their businesses, and I was frustrated by the lack of resources and bar association focus on what I saw was a growing problem in the middle of an economic downturn.
After a couple years of that, including a stint practicing with him and another lawyer, I joined Burton Law, a virtual law firm.
The concept was fairly simple but radical for the time: lawyers would be equipped with technology so they could practice anywhere. There would be no need for physical offices (unless you wanted one, or to meet with a client), and administrative functions would be outsourced to off-site staff who would be tied in to everyone through the internet.
The time I spent with the firm was transformational.
At Burton Law, I learned about how you can use technology to not only become more efficient but to improve the quality of services you can provide to your clients. This brief but important time had a huge impact on the way I approach the practice of law.
In 2013 I was presented with the opportunity to develop the Legal Practice Lab for the Columbus Bar Association.
The Legal Practice Lab is a 6-week program designed to provide practice management help to lawyers starting firms or going out on their own. It is the course I wish I had when I was starting out as a new solo practitioner. The topics are a combination of the things I had to learn on my own and the issues I regularly advise my small business clients on when they are starting up a new business.
Working on the Legal Practice Lab has been one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling moments of my legal career. It has rekindled my passion for helping lawyers with the business side of their law practices so they don’t have to struggle through it alone like I did. And from that passion, the New Modern Lawyer was born.
Throughout my time practicing law, I have been acutely aware of the gap in lawyer education when it comes to the business side of running a law practice.
The amount of available resources is much better than when I started practicing in 2007, but is still woefully inadequate. My hope is that the New Modern Lawyer, in whatever form it ultimately takes, will be able to help the thousands of attorneys who are trying to start or maintain a solo or small firm practice with the stuff they don’t teach you in law school – how to run a law practice.