I wasn’t a part of the not quite 3 Beer lunch that Greg and Toby had last week that spawned their last two posts. (They never invite me to anything.) But you know me, ignorance has never kept me from espousing an opinion.
I think it’s reasonable to assume that many attorneys fall into Greg’s 3rd Band Member category. Generally, they don’t like people. They like to practice law, or play music in a band, and they don’t really care for the social aspect of their job whether online or in real life. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s just the way some people are. I didn’t see the band’s performance (again, not invited) but I would bet no one put more effort or energy into that performance than #3. He probably wasn’t the most exciting to watch on stage, but he put in the most hours of practice and he was the most focused on the job at hand during the performance. He probably didn’t smile, or even look up from the instrument. He was in the zone while the more social hooligans were jumping around the stage and crowd surfing. Think Slash to Axel, Eddie to David Lee, or Keith to Mick.
While it can be difficult to engage these people about anything other than their one obsession, they serve an important purpose. They’re the ones that keep playing when everyone else is too busy preening to notice that they’ve lost the beat.
The law, accounting, traditional professional services, have historically been a safe havens for these non-people people. A single minded focus on the minutiae of legal precedence, or a balance sheet, works well for people who can’t be bothered with the niceties of social interaction. Unfortunately, many people who entered the legal profession 20 years ago, with a reasonable expectation that they would become wealthy and successful without needing to shake too many hands or smile at too much inane small talk, suddenly find themselves living and working in a hyper-social world, where even small talk isn’t enough. Now you have to be engaged in other peoples lives on a regular basis or they will think something is wrong with you. Toby hasn’t exactly called it this, and I’m sure he’ll slap me down if I’m off track, but his approach to pricing is all about being sociable. Go to the client first. Talk to them about the problems they are having. Find ways to alleviate their pain. That’s sociability and it’s more important today than ever, but some people, a lot of attorneys, just aren’t made that way.
Over the last decade, I have seen many friendly, approachable, young associates either quickly change into gruff and prickly types, or burn out after a few years and head to greener pastures, or “settle” for a non-partner career track. It’s a gross generalization, but sociability and friendliness has not historically been a trait that has marked one as firm management material. With the economic pressure to engage clients in a new way, and the demographic changes in the workplace, that might be about to change. The friendly types who were once pushed into supporting roles, may eventually be recognized and appreciated for their social assets, while the non-people people – who may have once rocketed to the top, promoted by like-minds above them – will be hidden in internal windowless offices, destined to toil away at non-client facing tasks. That should make everyone happy.