How appropriate this week as the nation (if not the world) honors the memory of a great curmudgeon in CBS’s Andy Rooney, that Attorney at Work has a post by its own killjoy Otto Sorts. It deals with an old codger’s advice to the younger members of the legal profession, particularly relating to the business side of the practice.

His pearls of wisdom for young attorneys include:

  • Clients want solutions. So, make sure you understand the problem before running off to do “your legal stuff,” as the resolution may rest with a dose of common sense;
  • Do a good job at a reasonable price. And don’t charge for your time, if you can’t help. The client “won’t be happy, you won’t feel good, and the karma will be very bad indeed;”
  • Remember that the practice of law is both a business and a profession. The business side is (or will become) your responsibility, and on occasion, you will need to spend (sometimes) as much time on the business side as on practicing law. Otherwise, Sorts suggests buying “some good walking shoes, because I see a pavement in your future;”
  • Clients hire lawyers, not law firms. Your firm’s “spiffy….website” ain’t gonna make up for a “crappy personality, poor communication skills, failure to respond to calls or any of the other reasons people fire their lawyers;” and
  • Listen more than you talk. The real world of practice is not like law school where you got credit for being quick to answer a question. If you first don’t listen well to clients, you may just blurt out the wrong answer before understanding the client’s needs.

Although many younger lawyers, especially in larger firms, do not see themselves as needing to contribute to the business side (and some are even discouraged from doing so), in the long term that is a huge mistake. More and more in our mature industry, the business end of the practice will determine one’s survival and satisfaction with their choice of vocation.