Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's Hard To Be Professional And Run A Business

I think it was easier to be "professional" in your law practice when you got 1.5% of the value of the property for a closing, 50% of referred PI cases (back before advertising when clients still sought referrals from their own lawyer), and you billed based on a minimum fee schedule, which assured that everyone charged the same minimum fee. It was unethical to charge any less. This prevented cut throat competition and assured that everyone made a decent living. Consequently, you could make a living in less than 12 billable hours a day. You had the time and energy to be noble and professional and to do some low cost and pro bono work.

The billable hour and court decisions killed a lot of that. Meanwhile, the same courts that encouraged greater business "competition" among lawyers now whine about a decline in professionalism. It is easier to be graciously professional when every minute doesn't count. Now clients treat us like plumbers because we bill them like plumbers. Everyone wants the lowest possible fee. They want it cheap, fast, and good. (I practice three kinds of law: cheap, fast, and good.  You can have any two simultaneously.)  They all want to share their losses with you, but none of them want to pay a penny extra for excellent results. I think what we're seeing is the fruit of the effort to increase competition, improve efficiency, and reduce fees. Those are all business concepts.  They aren't the concepts of a noble profession. Like any business we're now expected to appeal to "consumers." Consequently, the practice of law has become a business and lawyers have become more businessman than professional.  I don't think you can have it both ways. 

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