November 1, 2014

Coach’s Corner: Be a Lawyer and a Teacher

Rebecca Mieliwocki of Burbank, Calif., was recently named 2012 Teacher of the Year and honored by President Obama at a White House ceremony.

Among other impressive achievements in her career, she went to law school. This transition is not peculiar. Lawyers are, after all, teachers. They tell stories to instruct jurors and judges for the benefit of their clients.

But lawyers may not realize that they can use teaching techniques in many other ways to make the business of law more successful.

Consider just a few examples and ask yourself how good a teacher you are.

Justify your fees

Value is ultimately determined by the client, not the attorney. But it’s the attorney who must educate the client about the value of his services.

Most clients recognize the importance of and are willing to pay a fair fee for value. What they do not want is to pay for inefficiencies, duplications or unnecessary services.

To avoid fee disputes, lawyers must regularly demonstrate that their skills and the way in which services are delivered to the client coincide with what the client wants and needs.

Blog to inform

Lawyers often know a great deal about industry and economic issues that are important to clients, and can educate their clients about trends and developments using blog posts.

A blog combines the lawyer’s observations on breaking legal or regulatory issues with specialized content and research and can offer the option to comment and ask specific questions. This defines a teaching relationship — and also often serves as the beginning of a client relationship.

Educate your staff

In the current law firm world, lawyers and staff are affected by the ongoing transformation of client expectations and legal service delivery. Lawyers must take the lead in helping all staff members understand this change.

More than the continuing sluggish economy alone, firms are contending with upheaval in the way law is practiced. Secretarial assistants, technology specialists, project managers, any staff — they all need a better understanding of the forces reshaping law firms, and the lawyers who employ them should provide that understanding.

Emphasize the value of beyond-the-case effort

Young lawyers too often view themselves as being at the mercy of the firm’s partners when undergoing annual reviews. They can enhance their situations by educating the partners on what the lawyer has actually done in a key area, such as business development.

Attending lunch or bar association functions, posting blogs and client updates, writing articles in trade or legal publications are all valid marketing activities. The young lawyer who engages in them can make a convincing argument at review time: “This is what I’ve done to promote myself and promote the firm.”

Don’t assume these efforts are well-known tactics. Teach those who matter about the value of the effort.

Education is all about communication. It is essential that those with whom a lawyer interacts knows what the lawyer is doing and understands why it is being done. As lawyers, our job is to help others. Constantly conveying how and why you are doing this is an excellent way to derive greater personal satisfaction from your practice.

Ed Poll is a nationally recognized coach, law firm management consultant, and author who has coached and consulted with lawyers and law firms in strategic planning, profitability analysis, and practice development for over twenty years. Ed has practiced law on all sides of the table and he now helps attorneys and law firms increase their profitability and peace of mind. He writes a syndicated legal column, Coach’s Corner, where this post originally appeared on June 20, 2012.

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