Are You an Employee or an Entrepreneur?

I’ve had several conversations this week with senior associates who really understand business development. While neither is an equity partner, both bring in several hundred thousand dollars in fees to their firms. (i.e. as originations.) Both are interested in exploring a lateral move.

What was interesting was that both of these lawyers still chose to speak about themselves as employees and wanted to know who might be interested in “hiring” them.

In my experience, this is pretty common. Until you are actually a partner somewhere, most attorneys think of themselves as employees when in reality, anyone who has the ability to generate their own work is really an entrepreneur. An employee, in my book, does someone else’s work. That is not a good description of a lawyer who is doing a lot of marketing and business development and having some success at it. While it may be technically true that you are an employee because you receive a pay check that is subject to withholding, it understates what that you have to offer.

This may sound like matter of semantics; but I think it is important for more senior associates to stop thinking themselves as wage earners. Changing the label you put on yourself changes the way you talk about yourself. It alters the dialog you might have with another firm.

Law firms continue to hire lawyers as employees, but few law firms “hire” senior associates. By the time an associate reaches his or her eighth year in practice, it is difficult to find a law firm that wants to “hire” that individual as an employee; however, there are many firms out there who are looking for senior attorneys who have the ability to generate work.

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