One of my younger colleagues asked me this question the other day.
‘That is a good question,’ I replied.
‘Thank you, sir,’ he said.
‘I reply ‘good question’ to questions I don’t know the answers to. That’s why it’s good.’
‘Really, sir? Or are you being humble about it?’
‘I am not. Quite honestly, I don’t know how we get work given that I don’t market the firm. Given how I don’t indulge in social media marketing. I don’t cold call people to tell them about us. I don’t tout. I couldn’t be arsed to get up early and go to business groups. I don’t go around telling people we’re the best, greatest, latest, etc. I don’t hang around people or companies in the hope work falls on my lap. I don’t try to get on every bank or company panel.’
‘And if I am honest about it, I don’t like doing these things and don’t want to do it. My thinking is that I am a lawyer, not a marketeer. I am in the business of selling and evaluating arguments. I am not in the business of promoting myself or the firm. Of course, they will say marketing is now part of a lawyer’s skill. I disagree with that.’
‘For myself, I just want to do good meaningful work for clients who appreciate us. And do it with people I like for an appropriate fee. It’s that simple. If I can do that without marketing, so much the better. We don’t need a lot of work; we need enough work.
I would prefer us to devote the time, effort, and expense we would have spent on marketing to the quality and experience of our legal service. Let the experience and the quality of our work be our selling point. I know I sound ancient, but personally, I see marketing and promotion as a distraction to the quality and focus of our work as lawyers. I want to see my lawyers cutting their teeth on cases instead of ornamenting their social media.’
‘Even though I don’t know the answer to your question, it raises a good point about our legal education. Although we are taught to do the work, we are never taught how to get the work. When I was younger, I thought that was a flaw of our legal education. But a little older and having to run my own firm, I realise now it wasn’t a flaw, but a feature.
‘University could never teach us how to get the work because the university is academia; it’s theory, not practice. Be careful about listening to a legal academic about how to go about getting legal work. It is beyond their competency. Getting work is what we can only learn from the university of life because at the end of the day it’s about people and situations in action, not in books. Getting work is what you have to learn through observation, experience, and experiment, not some seven-step program.’
‘How do we get the work we do then?’
‘I don’t know but my sense of it is that we get about seventy to eighty percent of it from peer referrals. Yes, most of our referrals come from lawyers, not the public. The rest I’d guess come from our current clients and friends and family that recommend us, the firm’s reputation, and people who have somehow heard of us. As to how we get the work we do, I think it is similar to what a senior lawyer told me many years ago when I was a young lawyer when I had the pleasure of sitting at the same table at dinner with him.’
‘If you frequent the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya often enough, you will see him. Every time I have one case there I see him there attending to a few. I would see him run from one appellate court to the other the way I would run between the different Magistrates courts to attend to my cases when I was young. Anyway, I had heard of how he ran a thriving counsel practice and wanted to learn how he went about it. Since he was at the table, after some small talk, I could not resist asking, ‘Dato’, how does one go about cultivating a counsel practice like yours?’
‘The reply came back swift. “Do your best for every case that you appear for. Pour yourself into it. Don’t take shortcuts with your work. The client will know. The court will know. And above all, you yourself will know. Before I argue and during the argument, I give my best. And that is all you can do, Fahri. The challenge is to make sure you do this for each and every matter that comes to you, no matter how big or how small. Many of the clients I came to have were those that were impressed with my performance in court. Even though I was against them in one case, they called me to act for them in the next one. So always give your best in whatever work you do. People will hear, they will tell others, and then somehow you find yourself with more work.”‘
‘I would adopt that answer to your question. To get work, we have to do good work. We must do good work in every opportunity that is given to us without fear or favour. Give each case and client the time, care, and attention that it needs or they need. Don’t rush through it. Don’t try to get away with the work. Listen hard and deep. Don’t be content with simply handing something up; make sure it is as good as you can make it before it leaves your hands. Address the real concern the client is having and help them through it. When we can genuinely help others with their legal problems, they will not hesitate to recommend us to handle those of others. That goes both for referrals from both the public and the professional.’