Thursday, December 30, 2010

New York Times on New Strategies for Hiring Law Firms

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

The "Small Business" section of the New York Times has an article this morning about models small and entrepreneurial businesses are using to hire law firms, and strategies the firms are using to serve them.  I'm not sure there's anything really new in here, but it does bring up a point that legal educators and young lawyers need to appreciate, particularly for those law grads who aren't headed to the traditional big law associate posting.  Lawyers to small businesses are often the first and only outside adviser the firm has ever had.  Listen to some of these snippets:  "Make sure the attorneys understand your business - who your customers are, what your biggest areas of risk are, and so on."  "One issue is a traditional distrust of lawyers shared by many entrepreneurs: 'They see the lawyer as saying no to daring business moves."  "I needed access to a trusted source and only to pay for it when I use it, like weekends and so forth.  I use my attorney also to brainstorm ideas."

This is consistent with my view that business lawyers (or at least effective or successful one) can't simply give clients the law and expect them to make the integrated business/legal decision.  For more on this from a theoretical standpoint (with practical examples), see The Venn Diagram of Business Lawyering Judgments:  Toward a Theory of Practical Metadisciplinarity, 46 Seton Hall L. Rev. 1 (2011).

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Jeff, this is a useful article for all the reasons you point out.

One of the big value-adds of legal education could be the creation of a mindset in our students that enables them to look at the world through the eyes of current and prospective clients. Often this requires students to leave their comfort zone. They have to learn enough about someone else's non-legal business to apply their legal knowledge to it, and them communicate what they know back to the client in a simple, practical way. Most lawyers would prefer not to handicap outcomes because it depends upon their understanding of non-legal facts and it requires them to put forward, and be accountable for, difficult judgments. Yet, in the clients' minds, that is what justifies the fee.

Thx for this article. bh.

Posted by: Bill Henderson | Dec 31, 2010 2:23:28 AM

Obviously I will write on this on a post of its own when all print versions are available, but I did want to reply for now to this post and Bill's comment to make note that the granddaddy (well, 1984) of such studies showing of disparate lawyer roles in corporate advising is now republished as part of my project to bring such classic works out in digital and print forms. It is Robert Rosen's Lawyers in Corporate Decision-Making, in Kindle at . And at paperback, as of today, at . B&N Nook is at . It may also be on Apple iTunes by now and the hardback should be out by mid-Jan.

Rosen's original interviews of corporate inside counsel, outside counsel, and clients -- and his own conclusions and theoretical framework -- support the point that Jeff and Bill make above that lawyer roles need to include business advice and integrated advice and not just a narrow legal approval of a proposed action. But the mindset is indeed out of many of their comfort zones.

Posted by: Alan Childress | Dec 31, 2010 5:06:51 PM

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