Before I got into the legal industry around four years ago, I didn’t know much about lawyers. I assumed they were all highly motivated, intelligent, expensive, and had all the answers. I assumed that lawyers were created equal. If they passed law school and the bar, they must be good, right?
I have met some amazing lawyers, and I have met some lawyers that should not be lawyers.
According to the Ontario Law Society’s website, there are over 52,000 lawyer licensees and 9,000 paralegal licensees in Ontario alone! Based on my experience, I would estimate only 20% of lawyers are excellant. That means there may be around 10,400 lawyers in Ontario that are excellant.
I would also estimate that there are around 10,400 lawyers that should probably not be lawyers (the bottom 20%.) This is true of almost every industry.
The best lawyers are those that are skilled with legal knowledge and experience AND they are great at managing client communication. Some lawyers cannot even return client emails for some reason. According to my personal experience, the common problem is that most lawyers fall into one or two categories:
1) They are great at getting clients but not very skilled at legal work. These lawyers resemble salespeople.
2) They are very skilled but are shy to ask for money. These lawyers resemble accountants.
There has been some talk about AI replacing lawyers that create contracts (but not trial lawyers.) However, employment for lawyers looks positive and is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
As the CEO of ClearWay Law, I spend most of my time trying to find lawyers that are good at communication and are also skilled at legal work. I also want them to be innovative, as our law firm uses technology to save our clients’ money and stress. If the lawyer doesn’t know how to drag a folder into the cloud they can find a job elsewhere.
Lawyers Created Equal? No Way!
I just attended SXSW in Austin, Texas because I wanted to spend four days away from lawyers. The event didn’t focus on law but instead of general innovation. I got to hear about AI, big data, and most importantly, entrepreneurship. I got to ask CEO’s of billion dollar companies how they built the right teams.
The feedback I got was that they were very systematic with their HR. If a staff member did well, they got promoted. If a staff member did poorly, they were shown the door.
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When I first started ClearWay Law, I feared any lawyers leaving the firm. This was true regardless of if I fired them or they decided to leave. I didn’t want investors or competitors to see us as unstable. I even kept on lawyers that violated our consulting agreements.
At the last firm I worked for, there was a constant “revolving door” of lawyers. They would join the firm and leave a few months after. It was a disaster (I wasn’t in charge of HR.)
But keeping staff andlawyers that are no good because of fear of being abandoned is also toxic. Post SXSW I have decided I will only keep our top performing lawyers and staff. I can always hire an HR manager to constantly be on the lookout for new talent. And to be clear, I am not interested in good employees or lawyers. I am only interested in great ones!
*Opinions in this article are those of Alistair Vigier and not ClearWay Law.