I’ve long believed that newer associates (especially, but not exclusively) don’t understand their clients’ business and how business issues effect legal services. Without understanding what the business context is for the legal issue you’re working on, it’s going to be difficult to know how important the issue is — i.e., is this a “bet the company” issue, or is it a fairly minor issue that neither demands nor permits extensive research and analysis? Either end of that continuum is fairly easy to recognize, but knowing how to approach “middle” issues requires a bit more finesse. A lawyer who provides excellent client service will know the scope of her client’s business, will understand the business context for the legal issues, and will include the business perspective in her advice to the client.
It’s equally critical for lawyers to understand the business and economics of the law firm in which they operate — the business concerns of the lawyer’s internal client. How many lawyers have had to write down time of a junior associate because the work wasn’t efficient or wasn’t on point, thus inappropriate for the firm to bill to a client, therefore lost productivity for the firm? Worse yet, how many lawyers have billed such time, not understanding that just because billable work is performed doesn’t mean that it’s payable? Ouch. And lawyers become managers-in-fact as they advance, it’s equally important that lawyers understand something about management and interpersonal business relationships — topics that may pay dividends in client development efforts as well.
So, one key aspect of professional development is getting some grounding in the business of your clients and your firm. Read the business pages and the Wall Street Journal and get some grounding in basic business principles.