No matter the income, today’s practice of law carries a notoriety that is far from the noontime martinis and Bentley-driven glamour portrayed on television. For many attorneys, the typical day begins and ends with a text, tweet or email, staring at one screen or another, carrying the weight of their clients’ problems or fending off an opposing counsel whose style of advocacy oozes with toxicity. But for Miami attorney Brian L. Tannebaum, who built his practice 20 years ago from what he calls “an organic approach,” the practice of law has been not only successful, but fulfilling.
In contrast to his own experience, Tannebaum has become greatly disturbed by what is commonly stated as “necessary” for a happy, successful practice of law. So he wrote “Te Practice: Brutal Truths About Lawyers and Lawyering.” Tannebaum flew to Philadelphia recently to discuss the message of his book at a Young Lawyers Division program.
Tannebaum senses a misplaced reliance on technology and volume-based clientele as essential to the practice of law, “Technology and the desire to get more and more is causing us to just go crazy; we’re constantly trying to push this ball up the mountain,” explaining how many lawyers end up saying “This isn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t go to law school to pay bills and die.”
“When I started 20 years ago, professionalism was different, we didn’t expect responses in 10 minutes; we didn’t send emails at 4:30 p.m. demanding discovery and at 9:30 a.m. email the lawyer saying ‘why haven’t I heard from you?’ Actually, we didn’t use email. Everything was faxed. Tere was no texting – it just didn’t exist.” While he is far from “anti-tech,” Tannebaum explained, “I haven’t updated my website in 10 years; perhaps it is really affecting my practice, but I can’t tell. I built my practice by meeting people.” Rather than focusing on the Internet, Tannebaum urges an “organic” approach to building one’s practice – relationships. “Few people talk about referral sources… getting out there and meeting people, thanking people who do things for you,” he said.
Acknowledging the variety of ways to build a profitable law practice, Tannebaum sees the “race for more clients” as a slippery slope. In his experience, Tannebaum saw that the “quality” of clients was paramount in his practice – not quantity. “Being successful in the practice of law [hasn’t been] getting cases, it’s declining them. Do you really want more and more clients? Maybe you want quality. Tis notion is not frequently discussed today.” Admittedly a luxury, Tannebaum maintains that the key is “knowing that you’re really in control of what the practice is all about; making money, being happy, remembering why you went into this to begin with. So many of us are on a treadmill, it’s time to stop and think about what the end game is here and whether we’re really happy doing what we’re doing.”
In conclusion, Tannebaum maintained that relationships are, and continue to be, the cornerstone of his success – not just with current or potential clients, but colleagues. “Don’t forget the opposing counsel you mess with today, may some day later be responsible for something having to do with you. And yes, he will absolutely remember.”
-Luke W. Sampson
(This article was originally published in Philadelphia Bar Reporter; February 2015)