To say that for many being a T&E lawyer today is difficult is an understatement. Of course, there are T&E lawyers who are doing exceptionally well and will probably continue to do so. Meanwhile, a significant and growing percentage of T&E lawyers are finding it tougher to maintain their earnings capability, a situation that’s likely only going to get worse going forwards. And, for most newly minted T&E lawyers, the outlook looks increasingly bleak.
There are many reasons for the growing financial drought affecting T&E lawyers. For example, the wealthy are becoming more critical of the value of the legal services they’re receiving. This, in turn, is making legal bills more and more “voluntary” or, better said, negotiable. Consultants have sprung up whose job is to evaluate and push down these legal bills. We’re also seeing that technology, in various ways, is mitigating the need for many of the “hours” T&E lawyers had previously billed.
As a T&E lawyer, what do you need to do to excel? The approach you need to take is pretty straightforward.
We need to start by understanding which T&E lawyers do the best financially. The T&E lawyers making serious money are either at the top of the law firm hierarchy or are the rainmakers. Let’s avoid discussing the internal politics of law firms and focus on sourcing new business.
Many T&E lawyers and law firms have “issues” with bringing in new business. It’s not that they don’t want to generate new engagements; it’s just that they’re not especially good at it. Many of these T&E lawyers mistakenly presume that prospects magically know what they can do and that they’re good at it. Many T&E lawyers also mistakenly believe that when they deliver excellent legal services, their clients will appreciate their efforts and expertise. Moreover, they will refer others to them.
As for the answer as to what you need to do to excel and seriously boost your income:
- Become an industry thought leader.
- Strategically network with key referral sources.
- Proactively manage existing relationships.
While we’ve broken the answer into three components for ease of explanation, they tend to integrate strongly. Let’s now take a look at each of these components.
Become an industry thought leader. If you want a very substantial and profitable career as a T & E lawyer, you must create a meaningful pipeline of new engagements. Becoming an industry thought leader is one of the most powerful ways to do this. Having specialized knowledge is only enough if potential prospects and critical referral sources are well aware of your expertise. Becoming a thought leader makes you the go-to professional for your expertise.
Strategically network with key referral sources. As part of becoming an industry thought leader, you communicate your expertise to existing and potential referral sources. While working in the trusts and estates field, you can generate millions of dollars in annual collected billings with five referral sources or less. Often the best referral sources for T&E lawyers are accountants and wealth managers.
Proactively manage existing relationships. Because of the characteristics of T&E services coupled with your desire to be paid and paid well, it’s wise to make an effort to manage client relationships adroitly. This takes many forms, from educational initiatives to a focus on achieved outcomes. An additional benefit of doing an excellent job of managing the client relationship is the increased probability of repeat business and high-caliber referrals.
For most T&E lawyers, earning substantial monies is by being a rainmaker. Bringing in business usually trumps everything else when it comes time to set salaries and collect bonuses. By skillfully applying these three approaches, you can create a steady stream of delighted clients and a great deal of money.
Russ Alan Prince is the executive director of Private Wealth magazine and chief content officer for High-Net-Worth Genius. He consults with family offices, the wealthy, fast-tracking entrepreneurs and select professionals.