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The Impact Law Firm Economics Can Have on Your Legal Career

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  • The notion that a partner or associate must produce 2,000 or 2,400 hours of billable work yearly virtually assures that some clients will be overbilled.

    Of course, almost all firms have stated policies that forbid…unethical and illegal billing practices. The extent to which these policies are actually followed depends on the firm culture, on unspoken messages that leaders of the firm send to its lawyers.

    When money becomes the primary goal, a law firm may end up choosing to systematically inflate client bills and even to bill for expenses not actually incurred for those clients.
     
    • --Seth Rosner, American Bar Association Journal, May 1992

One of the most important aspects of your legal career-and among the most mysterious to young attorneys-is law firm economics. The economics of your particular law firm will have a profound significance in terms of what happens with your legal career. Because of this, smart attorneys and law students should have a good understanding of law firm economics before joining any law firm.
 
The Impact Law Firm Economics Can Have on Your Legal Career

Law firm economics often confuse attorneys because they have very few ways of getting the information necessary to fully understand them. Law firms certainly do not tell their associates how the economics of their business work — many do not even tell their partners. This is something that is rarely, if ever, taught in law school. Despite the drought of information, to succeed in a law firm environment, you must have a good understanding of many of the unspoken rules that govern law firm economics.

There are several different models that law firms follow. The purpose of this article is to explore the common economic model that governs large and midsized law firms at the law clerk, associate and partner level. The purpose of this article is not to explore how staffing of paralegals and legal secretaries works inside law firms-which is a separate topic entirely. I should note that this is not a pleasant article for me to write because much of what it says is a critique of the legal profession. Nevertheless, the truth cannot be ignored and you will have a difficult time succeeding at a high level inside a law firm unless you understand its economic model.

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Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

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