Law IS a Business

In a recent blog post, I suggested that it was o.k. for lawyers to seek profit. One justification that I didn’t suggest, however, becomes very clear when you look at state bars disciplinary reports:  Clients’ trust accounts are invaded by economically marginal lawyers (exclude out and out theft from this discussion, a rare event).  Thus, when we encourage lawyers to be business-wise, we are actually seeking to protect the public. 

Being effective with clients, efficient in the delivery of services to clients and therefore more profitable, we are actually protecting the public by providing sufficient resources to the lawyer to feed his/her family and therefore have no need to invade the trust account funds.

To say that law is a business, a service business, is not to deny that it is also a profession rooted in the highest ideals from the very beginning of our country.

Just today, at an American Bar Association meeting, I heard once again the assertion that law is NOT a business, but rather a profession. When one views the economics of the legal community with this assertion in mind, one is drawn to the conclusion that law as a profession must be impoverished. To be a profession means that we are economically poor.

Statistics show that the average income for lawyers throughout the country is low.  About 25% earn $50,000 or less and more than 50% earn less than $100,000.  These are hardly numbers to brag about, especially considering the many years of education (and thus lost income) required and the high student debt (upwards of $80,000) most graduates carry with them for years after being sworn in.

Then, consider the vast unmet needs of the American people. Who can serve these needs? Certainly not someone who, themselves, is barely making enough money to put food on the table.  If it were not for the many lawyers in very large law firms (who make a lot of money = are very profitable) who devote thousands of pro bono hours, the needs of the unserved would be even greater!

The discussion is interesting … for the very few. The vast majority of lawyers get it! They understand that they are members of an honorable profession and that they must act in a business-like way. Without such a focus, the bankruptcy courts and/or the criminal courts would be far busier dealing with lawyers who invade trust accounts and steal money from their clients.

"A rose by any other name is still a rose." One can deny that law practice is a business; that doesn’t make it so.

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