Is Law a Profession or a Business?

by JD Supra Perspectives

The issue of whether law is a business or a profession has been debated for decades. In fact, a 1908 Yale law review article touched on the issue and, of course, you know where the author came down. 

That probably says it all, it depends where you sit.

Academics, judges, and government lawyers probably lean towards a profession, while lawyers in private and in-house practice would say it’s a business. 

To me, the issue is moot.

The more interesting issue is whether a law firm can truly operate like a business, and whether it should try.

Highly effective business developers do not have administrative or managerial duties. They're on the street...

I was trained as a lawyer, not a businessman, but my 20+ years serving as a general counsel gave me interesting business insights that I'll leave up to you the reader as to whether they could or should be applied to the business and practice of law.

For example, in the business world:

1. Sales and marketing is everything. Without them: no clients; no business.

2. Revenue and cash flow is key. You can massage the bottom line with cost cutting, price increases and accounting tricks… but you can't fake sales and revenues.

3. Companies do not expect everyone in the organization to generate business.

4. Highly effective business developers do not have administrative or managerial duties. They're on the street generating business.

5. Each division or group has a P&L and they clearly understand their "break-even" and profitability analysis.

6. Clients are the organization’s clients and not "owned" by the individual who originated the business or who decides who to bequeath the business after he/she retires (or worse).

7. Strategy is always discussed and tactically executed upon...but neither product, technology, pricing or other differentiators work as well as superior client service, which is not based on a transaction but something deeper and where clients will pay for that experience.

8. Most care and want to build an enduring company, however, there is still an "exit" plan.

9. Restructuring and adapting to changes in the market are done often and change is constant.

10. Leadership is top down and execution is mandatory.

So, is law a business or a profession?

Go ask the leaders of Howrey, Dewey, Heller, Bingham, Wolf Block, and other firms that have fallen into the dustbin…

Just a thought. 


[Cole Silver Esq. is Chief Client Officer at Blank Rome LLP. Connect with him on LinkedIn. Follow for his additional writings on JD Supra.]


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