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ONE OF A KIND

Beyond Trends: Embracing the Enduring Laws of Legal Practice

By Jay Harrington

Here are eight timeless truths of legal practice that will always matter.

eight timeless truths of legal practice

Every year around this time, there are countless predictions about how law firms will change in the coming years to adapt in new and innovative ways to trends and developments in the marketplace. But then most don’t. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. In fact, most law firms would be better off focusing more on things that won’t change — the tried-and-true best practices — than those that might.

Some Things Never Change

In 2020, bestselling author and venture capitalist Morgan Housel wrote an article for the Collaborative Fund blog titled “A Few Rules” in which he argued:

“Most fields have only a few laws. Lots of theories, hunches, observations, ideas, trends and rules. But laws — things that are always true, all the time — are rare.”

This is an important observation because we aren’t great at predicting — about the weather, the direction of the stock market, or who will win the presidency. As Niel Bohrs, Nobel laureate in physics, once quipped, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”

It’s far more productive (albeit less exciting), Housel argues, to focus on what won’t change than what might change. To make this concept more concrete and practical for the business world, Housel, in a Fast Company interview, shares this story about Jeff Bezos:

Jeff Bezos had this great interview quote many years ago where he said, ‘People always ask me what is going to change in the future. I submit that a better question is, what is not going to change?’ His example, when he thought about Amazon, was that you cannot imagine a future in which Amazon customers do not want low prices, fast shipping, and a big selection. Because of that, he could afford to put all of his effort and confidence into investing in those things, knowing that they would be just as relevant 10 years from now as they are today.

Morgan Housel

The danger of chasing shiny new trends is that it’s nearly impossible to know with a strong degree of certainty whether they will be enduring. If a law firm, constrained by limited resources and run by lawyers stretched thin with client work, spends significant time adapting to what’s next, it runs the risk of losing sight of what works now, what always has and likely always will.

Eight Laws of a Law Firm

So, let’s dive into some of the “laws” — those timeless truths — that govern the world of law firms.

1. The Client Is King (or Queen)

The first and foremost law, which influences all the others, is client centricity, which is all about understanding, meeting and exceeding client expectations. After all, a happy client is the best business strategy of all.

2. Reputation Is Your Currency

In the legal industry, your reputation is your most valuable asset. It’s hard-earned and easily lost. Upholding trust and credibility isn’t just good practice, it’s good business.

3. Balance Client Retention vs. Acquisition

Winning new clients is thrilling, but keeping them? That’s where the real magic happens. Guarding and growing client relationships is critical to ensure a firm’s profitability and longevity.

4. Build a Strong Culture

A positive and supportive firm culture is key to attracting and retaining talented individuals and instilling core values, as it impacts job satisfaction, teamwork and the overall workplace environment. As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

5. Make Business Development a Priority

No matter how hard you try, clients come and will (eventually) go. It’s critical to fill the pipeline with new opportunities.

6. Always Be Responsive

The speed and efficiency of responses to client needs can make or break a relationship. If there’s one thing that will never change in client service, it’s that clients appreciate a prompt response to their call or email — and take notice when they’re left hanging.

7. Ethical Practice Is Non-Negotiable

Upholding ethical standards is fundamental, as it reflects on a firm’s integrity and the trust it garners from clients and the legal community. The legal world, even today, is small — same as ever.

8. Mentorship and Training Is a Necessity

A law firm can be successful in the short term but will inevitably fail in the long run if it doesn’t invest in younger generations of lawyers who will be tomorrow’s leaders. (Or not, if there’s no mentorship or training.)

Keep an Eye Toward the Future, But Don’t Lose Sight of What Will Always Matter

Alternative fee arrangements may someday become the norm. New and novel technologies, such as artificial intelligence, have the potential to transform how you practice law and run your law firm. Adding another tier of partnership may boost your profitability. A new marketing strategy can increase your visibility. It’s important to consider what’s new and next for your law firm — but not at the expense of what has always mattered and always will.

The “laws” we’ve discussed here — client centrality, a sterling reputation, balanced client management, strong culture, consistent business development, responsiveness, ethical integrity, and effective mentorship — are not just strategies for today. They are investments in a law firm’s future. They ensure that, no matter how the legal landscape evolves, the firm remains grounded in practices and values that have proven their worth over decades.

As you look ahead, remember that the brightest future is built on the bedrock of the past. Innovate, adapt, and evolve, but always keep one foot firmly planted in the tried-and-true principles that have long been the hallmark of successful legal practice. After all, in a world of constant change, the greatest strength can often be found in what remains constant.

Image ©iStockPhoto.com

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Jay Harrington Jay Harrington

Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading thought-leadership PR and marketing agency that specializes in helping law firms and lawyers build awareness, influence and new business. Jay is the author of three books for lawyers on issues related to business and professional development, including “The Productivity Pivot,” “The Essential Associate” and “One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Practice.” He podcasts at The Thought Leadership Project and writes a weekly email newsletter. Previously, he practiced law at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Follow him @JayHarrington75.

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