I’m teaming up with my former high school student to deliver online training in nutrition and at-home exercise.
You’re Fighting the Robots
Lawyer marketing? Do I have to?
The landscape is changing for lawyers. Getting a law degree is no longer the “Golden Pass” it once was. There are fewer jobs, and the average student debt coming out of law school is $112,000.
In a New York Times story titled, “Law Firms, Struggling Financially, Cull Partner Ranks.” Even large, powerhouse firms are demoting partners in a process called “de-equitizing” (yes, it would take a bunch of lawyers to come up with that term)or even letting them go.
An entire firm of several hundred lawyers, founded in 1848, Thacher, Proffitt & Wood, had to shut its doors because of its focus on mortgage-backed securities work (remember what happened in 2008?). In this new world, specialization can be a trap – unless you work in criminal defense.
No matter your seniority, you could be in trouble.
It’s also not the revered career path it once was.
It seems the reputation of the legal profession has been trending downward for over a decade. Things have gotten so bad that the American Bar Association even tried to highlight a 15-year old holiday, celebrating the troubled profession. Don’t believe me? It’s here.
WHEREAS, Lawyers have consistently been the target of verbal bashing, derogatory portrayals and literature are rife with lawyer bashing dated back hundreds of years. . .
SECTION 1. The first Friday of November be recognized and celebrated as “Love Your Lawyer Day”, a day for the public to celebrate lawyers and express their gratitude to them for their affirmative contributions to the public good and the administration of justice.
My guess is that even lawyers’ family members won’t be celebrating this one. But it hides a bigger problem.
As if the bad reputation wasn’t enough, some new challengers do better work at a lower cost. They don’t even need lunch or bathroom breaks. That’s because. . .
Are you better than ROSS?
ROSS is “the world’s first artificially intelligent lawyer.”
ROSS has joined the ranks of law firm Baker Hostetler, which employs about 50 human lawyers just in its bankruptcy practice. The AI machine, powered by IBM’s Watson technology, will serve as a legal researcher for the firm. It will be responsible for sifting through thousands of legal documents to bolster the firm’s cases.
Fresh-out-of-school lawyers early on in their careers, typically fill these legal research jobs.. I was one of those lawyers oh so many years ago.
Last year, an 18-year old British coder developed a parking ticket bot called DoNotPay that quickly handles ticket appeals through a Q&A chat. The bot, which is available for free online, has successfully appealed some $3 million worth of tickets, saving drivers the cost of hiring a lawyer for the appeal, which can run between $400 and $900.
Yes, I Did That Too
I’m not gloating, and I’m not your typical lawyer bashing snob. In fact, growing up, all I ever wanted to be was a lawyer. After watching my parents fight the good fight in the civil rights movement and as pioneers in the drug treatment movement, I was determined to fight for the downtrodden.
I ended up graduating from Columbia University Law School and detoured into the world of mortgage-backed securities law. I eventually righted the ship and worked as a prosecutor, chief counsel to a U.S. Senate subcommittee, and as a defense attorney. I had pretty much covered the field.
I had hit a dead end, and the world wasn’t much better off for my efforts.
I started thinking about creating a school for students from my East Harlem community who weren’t being well-served by the existing educational system. I quit my well-paying job (this wasn’t the last time) to tilt at this windmill.
Now, my law degree was going to help me pay the bills while I created this school. I worked as the field director for an afterschool program on the Lower East Side of New York (before it became gentrified) and worked as a court-appointed defense attorney.
But I still needed to market. This was before you could do business on the Internet. Because I was working night court (midnight to 8 AM), I had zero energy for figuring out the marketing. I hired two teens I had worked with in that after school program I mentioned, and gave them flyers to pass out – hundreds of them. Those flyers got me…
N.B. (I always wanted to write this!) – The school got created, and it’s now in its 23rd year and being run by my brother.
A dirty secret is that the smartest lawyers are often not the most financially successful.
What they never taught me in law school (and they’re still not teaching it, for the most part), was how to market my services. Everyone from first-year law students to partners at large firms is trying to figure out how to keep up with the business changes – changes that require marketing. still be able to network, serve your clients, and keep from getting divorced.
Attorneys also need to network, serve your clients, and keep from getting divorced.
I had to do my marketing the old-fashioned way because it was the only way available. Nowadays, there is a world of digital marketing tools that can provide a more level playing field. Don’t let te technology scare you. Virtual assistants, legal outsourcing from businesses like Pangea3, cloud-based software, etc. can become your best friends.
Lawyer Marketing – Fight Back
You may have to – GASP – stop charging by the hour and take a value-based approach to your pricing. Or you can explore something called *productized pricing* which is taking more of a hold in the freelancing world that I now inhabit.
If you’re a solo practitioner, you’re also an independent consultant. Your goal is to become a recognized authority and a trusted advisor to your clients.
Here’s a list of more specific things you can do:
• Update your LinkedIn profile.
• Update your website. Please. It can serve as your 24-hour marketing and sales team.
• Start producing content for your blog. What? You don’t have one?!
• Make sure the local directories list you correctly.
• Have an email signup form “above the fold” on your website.
• Learn some basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
• Create an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on your website that addresses objections of potential clients.
• Get out and do some local public speaking.
• Write guest posts for trade publications and influential blogs.
• Develop a referral plan.
• Spy on your competition’s ads.
• Sponsor the local Little League team (and then do the follow-up PR for your generosity).
• Follow your state’s ethics rules when it comes to testimonials.
• Join your local chamber of commerce and be active.
There are also marketing firms that you can hire, but it’s hard to know what you’re getting. Having a whole lot of Facebook or Pinterest fans will not do much for your practice.
The Freelance Life
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller
I’m a 58-year-old freelancer, and I think Helen Keller is right. I suppose I could start by calling myself something more responsible like, “consultant,” but the pirate in me prefers “freelancer.” “Freelancer” has more of a spirit of adventure, doesn’t it? Yes, I’m part of the 1099 Workforce and I’m proud of it.
Combine this strange new world of work with the fact that my generation is hated by the other generations – particularly Millenials. Check out stories like, “Baby Boomers Are What’s Wrong With America’s Economy.” We also don’t do ourselves any favors with hashtag wars like “How To Confuse A Millenial.” It’s not easy for us more mature folks.
That hasn’t seemed to matter lately.
I’ve got approximately 126 cover letters and resumes that I’ve sent out that were either ignored, opened with, “Dear Applicant, while your credentials are impressive, they didn’t match with, blah, blah, blah,” or some form of “Dear Hans, you’ve been out of the game too long.”
I’ve done the startup thing before. I am almost officially unemployable through temperament and circumstance, so I’m doing it again.
My 10-year old was surprised that I actually do more than make dinner, meditate, and workout. That stung. It’s not too early for her to learn that there’s such a thing as “freelancing,” but there are a lot of cultural myths and head-buried ostriches in her world to make this lesson an easy one.
I intend to slip this Fast Company article under her pillow.
When she’s older, I’ll tell her about being “antifragile.” This is where stressors, randomness, and disorder make you stronger and more resilient. As a freelancer, you will need to be/become antifragile or you will fail. Nothing in your formal education prepares you for this.
I started a school in 1993. Its presence disrupted the drug trade on the block, so a contract was taken out on my life. The NYPD facilitated my getting a carry permit, and a Lieutenant suggested the type of bulletproof vest I should wear. The threats weren’t idle. There were over 2,000 homicides that year.
I was afraid. I had a few friends help me get through like NYPD Sergeant (ret.) Anthony Acosta. I stayed in an almost constant state of fear. I learned hypnosis and NeuroLinguistic Programming to help manage my emotional states. Needless to say, things worked out. Those years taught me about a certain kind of fear. I wonder if they somehow prepared me for the fears and pitfalls I’ve had to confront as a middle-aged freelancer:
- fear of failure
- fear of success
- the comfort of mediocrity
- fear of rejection
- the Impostor’s Syndrome
There is pain and struggle on the road to becoming antifragile, but the benefits are worth it. Read the news. Is there a better time to learn how to benefit from disorder?
Self-awareness and self-acceptance play a more important role in my life than my self-esteem. As I mentioned above, I learned hypnosis. I did it out of curiosity and to improve my performance. During my training, I learned that we are all in a trance. My goal was to make it a trance of my own choosing.
Part of my early trance was that I would become a lawyer to solve the world’s problems and gain some social status at the same time. Plus, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t any good at math, which knocked out medical school.
Is freelancing the right path for you? Do you live by your values or by what you’ve been told you should do? My top 3 values are Freedom, Creativity, and Service (not necessarily in that order). Freelancing holds the possibility of me being able to live by my values. “I do it for the possibility and not for the promise.” This path is not for everyone. I respect that.
The World of Work Is Changing Fast
I get it. Some people just want to turn the lights on and have someone tell them what to do. I hope that doesn’t come across as insulting. In fact, my wife fits into this category. She is uniquely talented for going out on her own and impacting a great number of people, but she has those fears.
People I haven’t seen in a while excitedly ask me what I’m doing now. They remember the award-winning school I founded and the national press that came with it, the $14 million nonprofit where I led 350 employees or the consulting I did for a major police department. When I explain that I am helping socially responsible businesses with their online marketing, they cast their eyes down and try to change the subject.
In addition to the embarrassed silence from old friends, there are a couple of other downsides. One is that it’s a lonely existence. I have really learned to like myself!
Researchers and a few legislators are beginning to study the new world of work. They are asking questions about the “gig economy” as a bridge to more traditional employment, and as a path to creativity and freedom. The lack of labor protections and the level of financial insecurity are also part of the package that comes with this new territory.
The Sharing Economy, Automation, and the End of Work
Another downside is the lack of perfect clients. Perfect clients are the ones who pay what you ask, recognize you as the expert, and who have an ego one step down from yours. I’ve found a few – mainly in Australia, strangely enough. I have lowered my rates for people who can’t afford them, and I have been burned by some of them. I’m now focused on clients who have the need, understand their need, and who have the budget to get it addressed. If I make more money, I can better support the people and organizations I care about. This has been another hard lesson. Do you also suffer from a “caretaker personality disorder?”
I have two new books on my Kindle. One talks about the *genius* of business leaders who are automating as fast as they can as they reduce their workforce. The other talks about how American workers are getting screwed because of automation, artificial intelligence, and the sharing economy.
We did the AirBnB thing when we had our Harlem brownstone and I’ve flirted with the idea of doing Uber on the side. These enterprises reward initiative and drive. They also encourage competition and redundancy.
Technology and efficiency will be pursued by businesses of all sizes, regardless of the human cost. Decreasing consumer demand and too few jobs will usher in an economic Singularity that we can choose to fear. Or not.
I don’t think enough attention is being paid to how we’ll harness AI and other technology for the benefit of the larger group vs. the benefit to the oligarchs and tech giants who create and control the machines. The social contract has been broken. Most workers are unprepared for this and the school system is definitely not providing the skills necessary for navigation in this new world.
We have national leaders arguing about the minimum wage and whether to protect jobs from “unfair” foreign competition – or not. They won’t tell you that the jobs that may or may not be up for grabs, won’t be around much longer anyway. They would do better talking about the merits of a Universal Guaranteed Income. Insitute that, and no one will question me anymore if all I do is make dinner, meditate, and workout.
Promise vs. Possibility
Most of us are looking for guarantees. As a freelancer, there are none. It helps to reframe your outlook from being anxious about the outcome to loving the process. I’ve learned to love the process. Combined with my dislike for bosses, I feel that I’m in a pretty good place, in spite of my *advanced* age. While I’m not an Ayn Rand acolyte, I dislike crony capitalism and the coercion of the State. If Soros or the Koch brothers wanted to fund me, I would have a boarding school where the students’ first job would be to learn how to be useful.
Some of this comes down to fighting against the “victim society” we’re becoming used to in favor of the dignity/honor society. Dignity and honor used to hold a special place but is now derided as primitive, hyper-masculine and tribal.
Are You Prepared?
Don’t want to make the leap to freelancing but still want to be prepared for what’s coming? I’ve got you covered:
-Start a vegetable garden.
-Develop a side hustle. Start exploring things like Upwork and LinkedIn Profinder.
-Start an exercise program that makes you stronger. Strong people are harder to kill.
-Understand that your body is not the limousine (or minivan) for your brain.
-Improve your nutrition.
-Learn how to draw.
-Instead of asking, “Why is this happening to me?” Ask, “Why is this happening for me?”
-Develop a morning routine.
-Read about Artificial Intelligence and Aeroponics.
-Join a Maker’s Space.
-Have a fixed mindset? Change it to a growth mindset. Carol Dweck writes about this.
-When something goes wrong, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I can do now to make it better.” Do that every time something goes wrong.
-Track your blood sugar levels.
-Develop your creativity/idea muscle.
-If you’re the smartest one in your group, find a new group.
-Create a meditation practice.
-Change your relationship to failure.
-Learn lifesaving skills.
-Thoroughly research the alternatives before getting that back surgery.
-Learn hypnosis. We’re all in a trance. Make it one of your own choosing.
-Don’t trust experts.
-Take a reality-based self-defense course.
-Determine your top 3 values. Mine are freedom, creativity, and service.
-Take stock every day to determine if you’ve lived by those values.
-Take an improv class.
-Whether you like it or not, you’re a sales person. Get good at it.
-Learn carpentry or how to use a chainsaw.
-Scare yourself in a survivable way at least once a year.
-Learn how to shoot. You don’t have to buy a gun but it will at least give you some common ground with the Red Staters you’ve learned to shun.
-Join a homeschooling group.
-Decide where your passions, skills, and market demand intersect.
-Do a monthly fast.
-Learn the Emotional Freedom Technique
-Take a *forest bath* as often as you can.
It’s a long list. I know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll schedule a free consultation on how to put this together or talk about why you even should.