There has been a lot of ink spilled lately about the demise of Goodman and Carr. Pundits are running around saying that it’s another sign of the death of the mid-sized law firm.
It seems to me that the legal industry is finally coming to a cross-roads. In the past, lawyers were part of a guild and the focus was on professionalism and standards. The last thing a lawyer wanted to be was a business person. In fact, when you see lawyers wearing their robes there is still a small sash (for lack of a better word) that runs over the left shoulder blade and looks like an upside down letter Y. In
Today, the lawyer is constantly being told that the law is a business and should be treated as such. The focus has gone from law as a “pure” profession to being a business that happens to sell legal knowledge. The fly in the ointment for this modern-day view is that, if lawyers wanted to be (or were good at being) business people, they would have gone out and become investment bankers, stock brokers or small business owners and made as much, or even more, money than they do as lawyers.
Ever since I left my old firm and went out on my own, I am frequently told by friends about how “brave”, “gutsy”, etc., etc. I was to do it. This is the polite way of saying “good for you, I wish I could do that, but I just don’t dare take the risk.” Now, let’s not think that I’ve got a swelled head. I’ll be the first to admit that my departure from the big firm was preceded by over three years of planning, purchasing of equipment and supplies and furniture. And even when I took the plunge, I didn’t run out and get nice new offices, but I went for a shared-office arrangement. Ten months later, I’m finally moving into those new offices (that’s for the next posting). But true entrepreneurs, which many of my clients are, take a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” mentality. They are constantly seeing nothing but the upside. While I see the upside, I also spend a great deal of time looking at all the potential downsides.
So the problem the legal industry is facing is that law is now supposed to be a business but the lawyers are probably some of the worst business people around. They don’t have a natural affinity for business and their training teaches them to see the glass as half empty while the entrepreneur sees it as half-full. Is it any wonder, then, that firms like Goodman and Carr go under? The problem with the larger law firms is that they have generally priced themselves out of the range of entrepreneurs and small businesses. In doing so, they have also lost out on a vast wealth of knowledge and experience. I would personally assess only 10% of my business acumen to business training. The other 90% has come from being the lawyer for small businesses and watching what they have done that has worked and, perhaps more importantly, experiencing their failures with them and learning from those mistakes. This has helped me to learn what advice I can soundly give to my clients – and to my own business.
So, God Speed to Goodman and Carr. Will the rest of the legal community learn from its demise? Probably not. That’s OK – it’s just more work for me and my little shop. And that’s why, when I grow up, I want to be a small business lawyer.