It is a well established and understood truism in the legal profession that the skills necessary to be an effective and successful lawyer do not necessarily translate into having a successful practice or for that matter in securing a legal job at a top law firm. A common scenario for firms and solo practitioners is to be well regarded as a zealous advocate with impressive capabilities in the courtroom yet no reciprocal economic accolades. The reason why there is no congruity between a lawyers success in the courtroom and his success in business is that the skill set to succeed in the courtroom is vastly different from the skill set upon which profit is driven.
In positing an analysis of why lawyers make such poor business people, I will draw upon the famous essay by Isiah Berlin ‘The Hedgehog & The Fox’. Berlin classified and categorized writers and thinkers into two categories ‘hedgehogs’ and ‘foxes’. Berlin takes up the notion that hedgehogs view the world through a prism of a single unifying idea, while foxes marshal their experiences because for them, there is no singular unifying idea. In relation to this thesis, it can apt be posited that business is a an endeavor for hedgehogs while lawyering is an endeavor for foxes.
A lawyer is trained and by his nature has selected a profession that will allow him to be a fox. A lawyer is called upon to gather, process and synthesize materials to a reasoned conclusion. In the legal profession, skills which deny the objective singularity of viewpoint and allow for rhetorical persuasion of a relativist nature are required. An effective legal advocate needs to dissect issues not by becoming ‘locked-in’ to a narrative but flexibility and nimbleness of perspective. A business person, in contrast, is goal oriented in nature and can not deny the realities of the market for purposes of posturing or persuasion. His goal is to singularly obtain a profit after all transaction are settled.
Technology is perhaps the saving grace for the ‘fox lawyer’.in the 21st Century Hitherto, lawyers has had to rely on a non-streamlined process of integration as regards his business operation and his legal practice. That is, his practice has been built around the apparatus of leads, business software, forms that are largely the product of a corporate culture that is sold to lawyers by lawyers. This rigidity of business development in the legal profession has had the effect of blunting lawyers from the hedgehog reality of business operations. Lawyers have been able to disconnect themselves from cultivating, originating and selling by focusing purely on legal strategy.
This trend, however, is ending due to business pressures which make lawyers who think like pure foxes obsolete. Lawyers who only think of the courtroom and ignore the general ledger will likely not be able to face the realities of the legal profession in the 21st Century. Nor will they be able to secure a legal job at top firms.