Finding Legal Marketing Happiness with a Portable Book of Business

Michael Downey, portable book of business, legal marketing, law firm marketingI found an excellent article in the St. Louis Bar Journal by lawyer Michael Downey, an ethics lawyer and litigation partner at Armstrong Teasdale. He makes a point I've been stressing for a decade: happiness in law practice is found through business development. Here is an excerpt:

"As a litigation partner at a large firm and a law school professor who teaches law firm practice, let me share a secret I’ve found for law firm happiness. Happy lawyers normally have a portable book of good clients or client-referrers who continue to refer legal work.

For most lawyers in private practice, a portable book of good clients or referral sources is crucial to long-term happiness. Lawyers who can generate their own work will have the relationships that allow direct communication with the clients. This will allow the lawyer to learn not only what the client needs but why. It provides an opportunity for the attorney to understand the client as well as their business. These lawyer client relationships give meaning to the lawyer’s practice.

Further, lawyers often work long hours, particularly when the client comes to see the lawyer as an important ally and source of guidance. During those long hours, some good lawyer-client relationships grow into professional and personal friendships that can nourish the lawyer’s soul.

A portable book of good clients also gives lawyers control over their own workplace and career. Although law firms are often compared to pyramids, perhaps a better image would be a Viking longship. Lawyers who have business, and thus their own longships, can decide who crews the ship and where the ship will go. Lawyers without business are usually left to pull an oar on someone else’s ship.

Experience has convinced me that a lawyer with freedom to go – or not – is usually much happier than someone who lacks that freedom. Plus, law firms can more readily dispose of a mere oarsman, an action that the firm believes is necessitated by the economic slowdown and other factors, than for a firm to dispose of a lawyer who will take client work to the new firm.

Further, having a good book of portable business ensures that a lawyer can protect their turf if the lawyer feels he or she isbeing mistreated or slighted. If necessary, that book allows the lawyer to take their clients to more verdant pastures. Law firms are often difficult places to work. Having portable clients who will follow a lawyer helps ensure that a lawyer will be able to command respect. After all, if such respect is not forthcoming with reasonable effort, the lawyer can leave. The portable book of business ensures the lawyer will never be trapped."