Lawyer and business development coach Cordell Parvin recently published a LinkedIn article on how to motivate associates. Reflecting on his own drive as a young lawyer seeking to become a partner, Cordell observes that it has become so difficult to make partner that many associates have given up on that once-typical goal.
Cordell’s unstated assumption is that the discouraged associates are working in large law firms, and there he’s right—the track for them to make partner is so long and arduous, it’s a wonder that anyone ever starts, let alone endures and finishes the race. Moreover, the “finish” is not the end but the beginning of the marathon, in which partners are expected to bring in business when they’ve never had real client management responsibility, never met and engaged a new client, and never developed a referral network. They’re invisible, anonymous and unreachable inside a force field of locked glass doors and a website that says we’re everything to every large business with a bet-the-company case and budget.
Few lawyers will refer clients to large firms
I’ve been there. I was elected to partnership in a prominent IP law firm founded in the century before last. The firm blew up before my class of four could be anointed, but it was a nice gesture. I’ve been an equity partner in a large, national, general practice law firm. To my surprise, the brand didn’t help me bring in clients. Just the opposite. My referral sources dried up. Few lawyers are willing to refer clients to large general practice law firms.
Nor is it any fun to be anonymous. It’s jarring to see partners meet for the first time on an elevator car. That sight made an impression on me long ago when I was a law clerk in a 400-lawyer office, and I later had the same experience myself.
The ABA Journal, bless its heart—I’m a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and a big backer of the ABA—runs articles on the Rise of the Mega-Firm and What the Jobs Are—perpetuating the myth that the large “law factory” is the only model worth considering.
I’ve seen it time and again. I hire summer associates only to see them springboard into large law firms, where they know they’ll be miserable but well-paid for a time. Maybe Thoreau was right: Most people live lives of quiet desperation. And Zig Ziglar was right when he talked about flea training—he said that if you put fleas in a jar, they’ll jump out, but if you put a glass plate over the jar, the fleas will bump their heads and stop jumping so high, even after the glass plate is removed. Maybe it’s a rite of passage to join a large law firm if you can. Yes, you get a seal of approval on your resume, but where does it lead if after a few years you have no clients and no skills for serving or attracting clients?
Real lawyer jobs are not in law factories
I’ll take a stab at answering the ABA Journal’s current cover article question, where are the new legal jobs? With no disrespect to the Professor, the “jobs” are not in law factories. They’re with real lawyers in small firms like mine.
In a small law firm, you can know and be known by your colleagues. You can develop the kinds of skills for which clients will seek your services. You can learn how to interview and engage new clients. You can make a place for yourself.
So before you click “submit” on another large law firm’s resume collection page, send your resume to a lawyer who knows every person in his or her office. I’m Richard@BeemLaw.com, and I’m looking for a good lawyer who wants to be a real partner.