Jay Foonberg asks: Is the practice of law a business or profession?


Jay Foonberg is writing an update to his book, “How to Start and Build a Law Practice”. He posted the following on Facebook:

From the chapter “The Profession of Law is Not the Business of Law”

“In my opinion, those who call the profession of law a ‘business’ insult and demean the legal profession and you as a lawyer, in addition to simultaneously displaying their own lack of knowledge of the differences between a profession and a business”

Your thoughts?

One attorney said, “I strongly agree! We are here to find justice, or help a person in need.” Another said, “I agree with Jay Foonberg. I also think being a Human Being is not a business. Socrates, General Patton, Einstein, and Mother Theresa weren’t in business. But they advanced the human race.” Another commented, “If you want to sell stuff, go sell houses, or coffee, or cell phones.”

My comment:

“It’s both a profession and a business. If you are self-employed, you (the professional) work for the business (practice).”

That’s what I said, but what I wanted to say was, “are you nuts? Of course it is a business, and it’s naive not to recognize that reality.”

It’s a business because you sell services, pay your expenses, and earn a profit. If you don’t earn a profit, you’re out of business. You’ll still be a professional, but broke and looking for a job.

It’s a business because you have to bring in clients and if you don’t know how to market your services, you’re not going to make it, no matter how good you are as a lawyer or how selfless you might be.

It’s a business because you have to hire and manage employees, stay up to date with technology, and keep your expenses under control. If you don’t, there won’t be enough left over to pay yourself a draw and you’ll have to fire yourself because you can’t afford yourself.

You know what’s insulting and demeaning? Telling new attorneys that it’s not a business. Letting them think that all they have to do is hang out a shingle and be a good professional and the world will beat a path to their door. If they put other people’s interests before their own, their rewards will come.

That’s the wrong message.

When you’re on an airplane, the flight attendant tells you that if there is a drop in cabin pressure, you should put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Then, you can take care of others who might need help. You can’t help anyone if you lose consciousness, you have to take care of yourself, first.

That’s reality. On an airplane or in the business of law.

I went to law school to make money and to help people, but you can’t do one without the other. You can’t practice your profession unless your business is successful.

Many of the other comments agree that it is a business and a profession. And to his credit, Jay is seeking our feedback and “Liked” my comment.

The world was a simpler place when Jay wrote the first edition of his book. Today, we’re on a plane and losing pressure fast. We should all do our part to make the world a better place, but first, we have to pay the bills.

If you want to earn higher profits in your “business,” pick up a copy of The Attorney Marketing Formula.


How many lawyers really work from home?


According to the latest US Census, 2% of lawyers now telecommute. That’s up 166% in the last ten years and it’s one of the fastest growing categories. But it’s still a small number.

I’m guessing that most of these lawyers don’t see clients. They write, research, and perform other functions that don’t regularly require meeting people in person.

I’m also guessing that if The Census had used a different word than “telecommute,” the results would have been different. I think a lot of attorneys do at least some of their work from home. They don’t call it telecommuting, however, a word that is not usually associated with professionals.

I also think a growing number attorneys, sole practitioners primarily, work almost exclusively from home. They see clients at an office suite where they have so many hours a month available for that purpose, or other arrangements, i.e., using a conference room or spare office in another attorneys suite.

I work from home. When I “see” a client (lawyer), it’s done over the phone. My overhead is a fraction of what it was when I had an office and I love not having to commute. If I was practicing today, however, I would still have an office.

For one thing, I got a lot of walk-in clients in my practice. Existing clients would bring their papers to the office when it was convenient for them and if they needed help with those papers, someone needed to be there to provide that help.

In addition, my clients needed to see me in person, even if it was only greeting them before turning them over to a member of my staff. They needed to see me wearing the uniform (suit and tie) and to see that I was successful (i.e., nice furniture, etc.) Most of all, they needed to see that I was physically present, committed to the community and niche market that I served.

Over the years, I’ve talked to attorneys who have an office in their home and see clients there. I think this is a mistake. Clients have expectations about what an attorney does and they expect attorneys to have an office. When you deviate from what they expect, they get nervous. They may not say anything but they are surely wondering why you can’t afford a real office.

Without an office, it’s more difficult to attract clients. There are exceptions–entertainment law, for example, where working from (an expensive) home may actually provide even better posture. But for most attorneys, not having an office, in my opinion, costs more in terms of lost business and referrals than the amount saved by working from home.

I would probably have a smaller office today, however. You don’t need as much space today because a lot of work attorneys need done can be outsourced to virtual assistants or employees who work from home. I talked to a secretary for a California attorney recently. If she hadn’t told me, I would never had known she lives in Florida and works from home.

How about you? Do you do some or all of your work from home? Do you have a smaller office than you had in prior years? Let me know in the comments.