Reinventing The Law Business: Goodbye, My Readers

I have now been writing this column for Above the Law for over two years. Indeed, this is my sixty-ninth article. And this will be my last article under the Reinventing the Law Business name.

While I have enjoyed coming up with new ways to look at law firms and the legal industry (and will continue to do so for my own firm, Duval & Stachenfeld LLP), I also want to share my thoughts on another passion of mine – marketing. It is at the heart of what I do, day in and day out, and I would like to share my ideas with other lawyers. This is something I am quite good at, and I think I could be very useful in helping people at all phases of their careers to become excellent rainmakers and business builders. So I will be starting a new column – in two weeks – that  will be called:

Power Niche Marketing

So if you like what I write, you will still have me around. And if not, you will not be rid of me so easily.

To conclude this series of articles – and leave you with possibly the most important and all-encompassing thoughts about the law business – I submit to you the following:

The law business is unique in that there are really “two” customers to satisfy:

First – of course, there are the clients. If you don’t make them happy, then you have a serious problem.

Second – and not as obvious – there are the lawyers at your firm. If you don’t make them happy, you have a serious problem of a different sort.

The question might then be asked, which is more important of the two?  I believe most law firms believe the clients are more important, but I beg to differ. This is because a well-run law firm with high-quality lawyers (i.e., “Talent”) can always seek, and usually obtain, more clients. But when the high-quality lawyers – the Talent – leave, there is nothing left to sell – it is game over.

To paraphrase Peter Drucker, lawyers are so-called “knowledge workers.” They carry the means of production between their ears. If they aren’t happy, they can easily leave.

And this is the essence of the great mystery of the law business. On its face, it is SO simple; you just buy hours wholesale and resell them retail, at a marked-up price. What could be easier?

However the trouble is as a law firm you usually own nothing at all, since there are no non-competes and the lawyers are free to leave any time, and take the clients with them. So all you really own is the desire of the lawyers to stick around.

Which brings me to the conclusion I stated above: namely, that your number one mission should be keeping those lawyers – your Talent – on the team. If you can do that, your law firm will succeed, and if you cannot, your law firm will fail. As Dr. Seuss says, “Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed.”

Indeed, I believe in my heart that the reason my firm has succeeded so well, so far, is that we make our mission “ATR,” i.e., Attract, Train, and Retain Talent. When we focus on this mission, everything else falls into place so easily….

I hope this article – and my previous articles – have been helpful to my readers and to the legal profession as a whole.

I take this opportunity to thank Breaking Media and www.abovethelaw.com for the chance to address the legal community through their esteemed media outlet.

I will see you – my readers — in a couple of weeks in my Power Niche Marketing column.

My sincere best to everyone.

The End Game for Co-Working

I have been watching – and our firm has been participating in – the co-working trend.  It started with Regus when it was founded in 1989 but didn’t really go anywhere until the past few years.  Since then, numerous players have entered the market, each with its own twist to appeal to different parties.

There is an ongoing debate as to what will happen during the next downturn.  Some say that the co-working spaces – filled with millennials – will become ghost towns as these millennials will go home to work out of their parents’ basements for free.  Others say that in a downturn, co-working will boom even more because there will be more people out of work.

I am not wading into this debate except to say that I am certain that no one has a crystal ball and we will just have to see what happens at the time of the next downturn.  If I had to guess – and I shouldn’t guess publicly – I think the latter (i.e. the boom) is much more likely than the bust, but that is just my guess.  However, I do have a perspective here that I think is interesting….

To take you through my thinking, I hearken back to the internet.  When it started, everyone was so excited.  It was a “new business” and everyone was pouring into it.  However, it turned out that it was really not “a new business”; instead, it was “a new way of doing business.”  This meant that WalMart could be in the business just as easily as an internet start-up.  If you fast-forward about twenty years, I don’t think there is a single business that exists today that is truly an “internet business”, with the single exception of Amazon and, at least according to my calculations, it is only just now starting to turn a profit.   So much for the “internet business”.

I think the exact same analysis applies to co-working.  If you look at what is happening now, there are numerous competitors; however, recently, landlords themselves have started to enter the fray.  For example, if you own an office building, you might consider allocating a floor for co-working space.  The margins are dramatically higher than what you would get if you leased the floor – versus the risk that your tenants are sort of like hotel guests and could evaporate if the market changes.

To be clear here, since co-working is so labor and operationally intensive, most landlords will team up with a co-working provider.  I think you will see a lot more of this.

As a landlord you wouldn’t want to risk the entire building on this concept just yet and even if you did your lender wouldn’t let you, but for a single floor it probably makes sense to take a chance and enjoy the upside without that much downside risk.  And ten years from now, once co-working has proven to be a longer-lasting concept, your lender will probably let you co-work out half of your building or even more than that, i.e. co-working will likely morph to be more like a hotel concept.

In any case, over the next ten years I suspect co-working will become more and more ubiquitous.  Then what happens to the co-working companies?

My prediction is that there will be a couple of survivors.  The rest will fold or be absorbed or bought by other real estate players.

Meanwhile, I advocate that real estate players – worldwide – should be looking at how they can optimally apply this “new way of doing business.”