Who's helping the forgotten majority?

I was part of a big problem. For many years as a head hunter my primary focus was on lawyers at top firms. I had very little understanding of anyone outside of a very select few firms and a complete lack of understanding of their needs. Fair enough too, that was my job. But this has changed a lot in the last two years. Since we've shifted focus to helping lawyers all of a sudden I realised, completely ignorantly, that I was missing the big picture. That there is a forgotten majority, rarely discussed, but in need of help just as much as everyone else. That in many senses these were “my people”, running businesses of a similar size to mine with many of the same issues. Who are they? Over 85% of lawyers in sole practice or small firms.

I've been starting to wonder... why do small firms and sole practitioners get largely ignored by the commentariat (like us!) when discussing strategies to help lawyers? And if we acknowledge that they have particular needs, how can we be part of positive change to empower them?

Why are they largely absent from the discussion?

I put it down to most of them being far too busy to be on LinkedIn, publishing on Medium or engaging publicly around their issues. They are naturally less likely to write about their own causes. Obviously right? They are too busy trying to get clients, do client work, and spin the million plates all small business people do. Most people have no concept of how complex running your own business can be. Let alone layering trust accounting and professional regulation on top. Oh and the constant worry about getting something wrong. It's a tough gig and people doing it rarely have the time to communicate what their needs are.

It also makes sense that bigger businesses largely drive the discourse. They run the publications, pay for the ads, drive the law societies and have the ability to self reflect simply because they are bigger.

It's interesting but go through your LinkedIn feed. I promise you, there will be barely a mention of the particular needs of the vast majority of practitioners. Lots of announcements, lots of talk and workshops at large firms... little practical help for the majority of practitioners.

What does BB want to do to help them?

Maybe as a small business person myself I feel a certain sense of shared experience with sole practitioners and small firm operators.

Just like small firm owners I've been in the trenches and grown something and this shared experience has also let us see clearly how their needs differ.

From my perspective, we need to give them far more access to services and support than they currently get. I've spoken to countless sole practitioners and one thing that stands out at the outset is how poor they feel the professional training is. The quality of help they get during the practice management courses needs to become far more practical and far more responsive to a changing market. For instance, most spend scant time on helping people choose appropriate practice management software. Seems pretty fundamental to me. Other examples include the way trust accounting is taught and the limited practical time spent on business planning.

It's also important that we start looking at law school curriculum. How we are teaching skills that are transferable for all lawyers running an actual business? Let's start with basic business planning, commercial mindsets, learning about building your brand as a trusted advisor, and all the other very practical things all lawyers need.

One thing we are going to start doing is welcoming more voices onto our blog with more practical tips on being a lawyer no matter your firm size. In essence this is at the heart of why we are launched Thrive, to help lawyers of all levels and all types get the tools to stay ahead. Further, we have been working on tailored solutions to help practitioners of all levels one on one, and we'll be releasing details of that shortly.

What can we as an industry do better?

So we've made the proposition, but what do you think? What can we do better to add value to practitioners of all kinds, and how can we help drive a more inclusive discourse that is better representative of the majority of the profession? We'd love your feedback.

Written by Michael Bromley, co-founder of Beyond Billables.