If we traveled back in time to a law office of the 1950s, what we would likely find is a small, smoke-filled office with one or two male lawyers and a female assistant at a typewriter. This image tells us a lot about being a lawyer back then (including the fact that diversity of any kind barely existed in the profession at that point). In that era of the legal industry, it was extremely uncommon to have large firms exist, aside from a rare few, like mega giant Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. It was usually a simple setup—a few lawyers and a secretary who were responsible for serving clients and running the firm. Those lawyers typically landed clients over dinner and a cocktail at the local country club. There was not a strong need for “developing” or “marketing” your law firm as relationships were key to the success of the firm. Fast forward to 2019, where it is not only about being a lawyer and servicing clients, but the industry has become a business with various departments responsible for efficiently running a law firm— including many nonlawyers. Today, being effective at “lawyering” does not always equate with being a successful attorney as there is now much more involved in what is now known as the business of law.
While there has been a significant shift in nonlawyers serving in high-ranking positions in law firms over the past 20 years, there is still a disconnect in the importance they play in firms. David Burgess, publishing director at The Legal 500, recently published the LinkedIn article “LMA Annual Conference: let’s be honest, it needs to raise its game …” that talks about his frustration around the lack of support for nonlawyers in law firms because, from his perspective, “marketing is not taken seriously enough by the legal profession. Or rather, it isn’t taken seriously enough by partners and, perhaps more worryingly, by associates, who aren’t sure what it is there for, and see it as a drain on the profitability of the firm.”