I had two interesting conversations this past week with two very different lawyers. One was the founding and managing partner of a firm with 85 lawyers spread across five states. The other is a newly minted partner in a two-man firm in a small town. They had very different opinions on practice and building their firms.
I don’t touch on it often, but I teach an elective law school class during the summers, “How To Start & Manage A Law Firm.” It’s essentially a Business 101 course, but geared towards new lawyers. As part of the course I usually have 3 or 4 lawyers come to speak to the class about their experience in starting a law firm.
This past week Alex Shunnarah, founder of Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys, came and spoke to my class. For those not in Alabama or the surrounding Southeast, Alex is a ubiquitous presence in the area. His advertising profile is omni-present. If you were to poll Alabama citizens and ask them to name a lawyer off the top of their head, Alex Shunnarah would be number one with a bullet.
Alex spoke about going from just himself, struggling to get started, to where he is now. His background, sacrifices he made, intelligently taking risks. He opened the kimono a bit and let students get a look into what it’s like to build a massive enterprise like his firm.
Then over the weekend, my family and I went to the lake with another family. The father is also a lawyer. Most of the time was spent boating, eating, paddle-boarding – usual lake stuff. But we did spend some time talking shop.
At one point we got to talking about the internet, and getting clients that way. Our conversation went something like this.
“You know I got calls and emails from all these marketing companies,” he said. “Internet SEO folks telling me they can get me this client or that client. I always tell them no thanks.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I’ve got enough clients as it is! Other lawyers and judges send me clients right now. I’ve got more than enough work. I only take the clients I want. I charge what I want. I get to work everyday at 8:30am and leave at 5pm, and I never work on the weekends. I’m good.”
Are You a Satiable or Insatiable Lawyer?
Back to earlier in the week, after Alex had finished speaking to my class, he and I spoke about a number of different topics, but one stood out. Alex was talking about a lesson he has learned over the years in regards to hiring lawyers – and just lawyers in general. He felt that most lawyers fell into two categories – satiable and insatiable.
Some lawyers are content with what they have, others can never have enough. Neither is good or bad, it’s just the way things are.
Alex preferred to hire insatiable lawyers. That’s the type of lawyer he is. Alex’s hobby is his firm. He spends his free time at his firm. But he also understands lawyers who are satiable. They build a comfortable practice making a few hundred thousand dollars a year, cover their overhead, pay themselves a good salary, and spend their time on hobbies and their families.
Just like I’ve written about the need to understand whether you are a farmer or a hunter, you need to set aside some time and decide if you are satiable or insatiable.
If you’re satiable, being in a high stakes, fast moving firm likely isn’t a good place for you. And if you’re insatiable, being in a flat growth, small town law firm likely isn’t a good fit either. And what type of lawyer you are will also likely change over the course of your career. It’s a question worth asking yourself from time to time.