When I first started working at the big law firm I got a visit from the “numbers partner.”
He was a very serious man. And the younger lawyers were all afraid of him.
Before law school he’d been an engineer.
He didn’t have any hobbies like the other partners. He just loved to work. Most of all…
He loved data. And he loved spreadsheets.
He loved keeping track of how many hours everyone billed.
He billed lots of hours, more than anyone. And he was always on the phone talking with clients. So…
If he came to your office to see you, it wasn’t to chit chat.
It was because he wanted to exhort you to bill more hours.
At least usually.
But in this instance, since I had only been at the firm for six weeks, he was not coming to tell me to bill more.
He just wanted to stop by and say hello. And to offer some uncommon wisdom about practicing law.
“Ernie, do you know the two most important rules in practicing law?” he asked me.
“Gee, I doubt it,” I said.
“Well, first you have to get clients. You can’t practice law without clients. So you need to have clients who pay your fees and cover your overhead.”
I nodded slightly.
“Very important to get clients,” he repeated. “
I nodded again, with a bit more of a head bob.
He could sense I was puzzled.
“Now, I’m not saying you need to get them right away,” he continued.
“Just that, eventually, you’ll need to have your own clients. You know, by the time you make partner —which I have every reason to believe you eventually will.”
I nodded vigorously.
Apparently, I had plenty of time for Rule #1.
Still, I felt apprehensive.
The pregnant silence ended quickly.
“And do you know what the second most important rule of practicing law is Ernie?”
“No sir, I don’t.” I was feeling more confused, more apprehensive.
“Well, Rule #2 is that, once you’ve gotten some clients…
You’ve have to learn how to AVOID THEM.”
I couldn’t tell if he was joking.
He wasn’t known for having a sense of humor. But I didn’t know him well, so maybe…
Then he let out a chuckle.
He scanned me up and down, from head to toe, as though I was a new soldier in the first day of basic training.
Then he muttered “welcome aboard,” turned and left my office.
The Two Rules
For years after I kept thinking about the “two rules.”
Eventually made partner. Although, I didn’t have my own clients.
But the firm had plenty, and and everyone had lots of work.
So apparently Rule #1 didn’t matter as much I thought.
But Rule #2…
That one started making a lot of sense.
It was no laughing matter.
The more I practiced law, the more I realized that many clients (most?) are a huge pain in the ass.
For example, the ones that don’t listen to your good advice…
And wind up getting in lots of stupid trouble.
Or the ones that complain that your bills are too high…
When the reason is because they insist on waging war at all costs.
You know, “for the principle.” Or to “teach them a lesson.”
That’s how it was with one of the firm’s lucrative clients
A fellow who was one of the most despicable human beings I ever met.
He was always involved in ridiculous litigation. But of course it was always someone else’s fault.
He bloviated freely and continuously about how stupid everyone else was.
He loved to go to trial.
He never wanted to settle.
And of course he was a horrible witness.
Smug, condescending, and brazenly deceitful.
Judges hated him.
So did juries.
There was nothing you could do to save him from self-destructing.
Did I mention he was a complete scumbag?
As in: eventually he was charged with kicking a woman in a bar. There were lots of witnesses and they all agreed he did it.
First, he pushed her down. Then he kicked her in the face with his cowboy boots.
So yeah that was a client I tried to avoid.
And whenever I was assigned to work on one of his cases, I thought about Rule #2.
Of course, if I had been able to get my own clients I wouldn’t have had to work with clients like him.
Being picky about clients is crucial
Yeah, back when I worked at the firm I was clueless about marketing.
I didn’t know there was a learnable system for getting clients.
Specifically, a wonderful system for attracting great clients and repelling bad ones.
Now I know.
I know the system, and I know that anyone can learn it.
It’s not a system that you can set up overnight.
But it’s a proven system that works all the time in any kind of practice.
Now, let me ask you two questions about your law practice.
- What’s your biggest frustration with getting new clients?
- And what are your biggest frustrations in dealing with clients once you’ve got them?
If you could take a minute to give me your answers here it will help me better understand your view from “in the trenches.”