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Entrepreneurial cognizance within the professions

Last week Thomas L. Friedman, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist, wrote a piece describing the current recession as largely caused by “an education breakdown on Main Street.”  He singled out the legal profession, noting:

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

Before concluding:

Just being an average accountant, lawyer, contractor or assembly-line worker is not the ticket it used to be. As Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind,” puts it: In a world in which more and more average work can be done by a computer, robot or talented foreigner faster, cheaper “and just as well,” vanilla doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s all about what chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cherry you can put on top. So our schools have a doubly hard task now — not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.

Entrepreneurship is not something that is taught in professional school (other than business school) but as someone who has been self-employed for all but the first two years of my eighteen-year legal career, and as the spouse of a professional who has had frequent bouts of underemployment/self-employment, I regard it as an extremely valuable skill and mindset that our professional schools should be teaching.  Thinking about one’s profession as not just a service being offered but as a relationship with customers that need to be “satisfied,” learning how to “market” one’s professional skills, and recognizing that creativity as well as knowledge is a vital component of professional practice are attributes that frequently distinguish the “successful” professional from the “unsuccessful” one.  Professional schools assume that such skills will be developed through on-the-job training but this is an often-incorrect assumption.

Friday, the South Carolina Judicial Department posted the results of the July 2009 bar examination, with three hundred and seven Juris Doctorates passing the examination, one hundred and seven from the local law school.  After the November 16, 2009 swearing-in ceremony, these newly minted attorneys will join our profession, many in the Charleston area, all seeking fulfilling and remunerative employment.

My experiences from both formally and informally mentoring their recently admitted colleagues is that many will need to develop their own business to earn a living or develop professionally.  I empathize with their plight: forced to be entrepreneurs when they have only been trained to be professionals.  However, the proper response isn’t to divorce professionalism from entrepreneurship but to make entrepreneurship part of professional training.

Put Mr. Forman’s experience, knowledge, and dedication to your service for any of your South Carolina family law needs.

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  • Excellent blog. Lawyers are one of the last professions to recognize that one has to not only have the skills to perform this service but also the skills to run the practice like a business. It is not surprising to me that firms will let go of those who refuse to contribute skills & clients b/c as you note many of our skills such as legal research and writing briefs are easily outsourced w/o carrying overhead of expensive employees waiting for work to be handed to them. Giving talk next Wed to attys about benefits of free social networking and may quote your observations about the current legal environment. Those who fail to change and find innovative ways to practice law with the same professionalism as before but going the extra mile to market will get left behind or go broke.

  • During the weekend of Oct. 15-17, I attended a national Legal Education Critical Issues Summit in Scottsdale, AZ. Years in the making, the Summit brought together more than 150 national opinion leaders in the field of legal education including law school deans and faculty, adult education experts, CLE providers and regulators, state and federal judges, and members of the practicing bar. The purpose of the Summit was to take a critical look at the future of the legal profession and the entire spectrum of legal education in light of current economic realities, advancements in technology, and generational differences. Debate was lively and at times heated on issues ranging from reforming the entire law school experience to mentoring to CLE. One of the recurring themes was the need to train lawyers in what many conferees called “core competencies” of practice. While the conference did not attempt to specifically define or list core competencies, there was a clear desire to see all the stakeholders come together to do so, and to expand the concept of legal education to include more practice management and skills training in a broad spectrum of non-substantive areas starting with law school and continuing throughout an attorney’s career. I would be happy to provide a copy of the Draft Recommendations to anyone interested in this important topic.

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