About a year ago, in response to then- Above the Law columnist Jay Shepard, I asserted that wanting to run a business is NOT the most important characteristic for lawyers wanting to start their own practice. I postulated that lawyers who hang a shingle for the excitement of running a business rather than a passion for law will soon find themselves disappointed because as a business law ain’t all that exciting.
Balkanized professional ethics codes often stymie innovation (sometimes for better, but sometimes to the detriment of expanded access to law), we’re bound by past precedent and can’t just make up arguments as we go along, and we can’t vie for venture capital. Perhaps Jay also saw the writing on the wall, because shortly after that column, he shuttered his law firm to open a consulting business focused on pricing legal “knowledge” (if you call it legal services, you’ll have to charge 20% less!) while I’m still trudging away.
So are those of us who still actually practice law, and continue to view it as a profession or a calling or passion simply a bunch of idiots? Maybe so. But among entrepreneurs, there are those who are good at it and those who aren’t. As Malcolm Gladwell discusses in this video, those entrepreneurs guided by money and a single-minded obsession with business are wildly and financially successful. But those who depart the straight-and-narrow business path because they gravitate towards the pull of a strong moral compass are the ones we remember.
In law, we can figure out how to market a firm and make oodles or money or enough to sustain our lifestyle and desire. Or we can figure out ways to serve clients, create great precedent or expand access to law and make a difference. Maybe being a good lawyer and bad businessman isn’t such a bad thing after all.