Though lawyers are a solitary profession - they spend a surprising amount of time in their own heads - they’re also remarkably social. We made a cursory count recently and came up with 103 state, regional, local, and specialty bar associations. And we feel fairly confident that the total number is certainly double or even triple that. Feels like as long as there have been lawyers, there have been bar associations.
But just like most of today’s social institutions, even most of our legal institutions, bar associations are being both remade and challenged in our modern era. The internet empowers all individuals to connect with just about anyone else - well, anyone who is also connected to the internet - nearly instantly. But people don’t want to connect with just anyone. They want to connect with people who are like them, whether that’s in profession, aspiration, disposition or some combination of all of those.
We’ve all moved more of our lives online as the tools to help us connect, share and learn online have improved. Legal professionals are no exception, and, to the extent it played a role, the coronavirus pandemic only accelerated this trend.
Rumors of the death of bar associations are greatly exaggerated. But it’s not at all surprising to see the emergence of online communities that allow lawyers who have more than simply geographic proximity in common to connect. And the coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated this trend.
This is why we at Financially Legal dug in on lawyer communities. Over the course of four podcast episodes we interviewed the leaders of four different online legal communities, and researched and explored a handful more. What we discovered is that lawyers are not simply replacing what they historically got from bar associations with these groups. They’re doing so much more.
What follows is a brief look at a number of largely online lawyer groups and communities which are enabling lawyers to connect in unique and powerful ways.
What started as conversations between two friends - actually a law professor and his student - evolved into a movement. Oh, and did I mention that the prof and his former student both have successful law firms in their own right?
A few years ago, Jim Hacking, the law professor, and Tyson Mutrux, the former student, observed what many solo or small law firm owners could tell you: leading a small law firm can be a lonely experience. Not only is lawyering a job that requires you to spend a lot of time in your head, as we mentioned, but leadership can be isolating too. Jim and Tyson found that they enjoyed riffing on the ups and downs, the highs and lows, and the joys and challenges of running a small law firm. You can hear all about the beginnings of Maximum Lawyer in their most recent Financially Legal podcast episode.
They soon found that others did too. They organically grew their podcast, the Maximum Lawyer podcast, until it expanded into the robust community it is today with over 200 hours of content. The Maximum Lawyer Facebook group boasts over 5000 members. They’ve also expanded into live events: Max Law Con 2018 and again in 2019. Both were held in St. Louis. Both were sold out. The 2021 event is scheduled for this coming October. Maximum Lawyer has also recently launched a paid community, called The Guild. The Guild offers one-on-one and small group coaching, exclusive content, a separate event and more. All the while, Jim and Tyson have been growing their own successful practices - Jim as an immigration lawyer and Tyson doing personal injury. And they rightly tout their ongoing practice experience as a major differentiator between Maximum Lawyer and other lawyer community groups.
A number of years ago, toward the end of the calendar year, I made a trip to a smallish-to-remain-nameless western city. The occasion was a day-long bar-sponsored seminar for the lawyers in the area to catch up on their continuing legal education, or CLE, obligations.
To be fair, this was a few years ago, when I had fewer gray hairs myself but, nonetheless, the audience at this event was DECIDEDLY male, pale, and frail. A few slept through a good chunk of the program. When I asked some of these folks why they came to this event the answer was “I’ve been getting my year-end CLE at the bar for years! What else would I do?”
With the rise of online lawyer communities it’s not at all surprising to see communities like Lawyerist emerge to meet the needs of entrepreneurial lawyers who, for a whole host of reasons, would not fit at the bar-sponsored CLE I just described.
The founder of the Lawyerist website, Sam Glover, once told me that he started Lawyerist because he was mad at a practice management company and wanted a place to complain. He gave birth to a technology blog that’s morphed into a large and well-known online legal destination. But Lawyerist is way more than a website. Lawyerist now boasts three levels of engagement that support hundreds of thousands of lawyers in their entrepreneurial journey. First, Lawyerist.com has a ton of freely-available content that any legal professional is able to access and leverage to grow their practice. Next, available behind only an email access gate is the Lawyerist Insider program. Insider offers more than a dozen valuable templates and tools including the powerful Small Firm Scorecard™. Finally, Lawyerist’s paid community, Lawyerist Lab, helps lawyers go beyond the self-study of the Insider program to coaching and personal and professional growth. Labsters (as the Lawyerist team refers to them) get even more content, an invitation to the Lawyerist event for lab members LabCon, accountability coaching and support, and a bunch more.
If you’ve been even mildly paying attention over the last, well, year but even the last few years, you know that social media has become a challenging environment to navigate. And this comes from someone who is very bullish on technology in general and even social media in specific.
What’s to be done? The founder of the lawyer community LawyerSmack, Keith Lee, saw the social media meltdown coming and knew it was an opportunity.
What started out as a free extension of his popular Associates Mind blog, LawyerSmack has become a large and very active paid online lawyer community. LawyerSmack boasts hundreds of lawyers across the world communicating openly about everything from legal arguments, to law practice management, to technology to, well, furries. Members exchange over 15,000 messages weekly sharing referrals, tech tips, feedback on dealing with clients, and everything in between.
Lee has instituted a requirement that all LawyerSmack members disclose their identity. So, while the community is definitely freewheeling, there’s also an element of transparency that tends to keep people more reigned in than they might otherwise be. The discussion of the power or influence of anonymity on bad behavior remains an open and widely debated topic but, in a small way, LawyerSmack seems to have captured much of what’s good about social media and less of what’s bad. Keith Lee and LawyerSmack member Jeremy Richter recently joined host Dan Lear on Financially Legal to talk about how the LawyerSmack dynamic plays out.
On Financially Legal we try to focus on the nuts and bolts of finance and economics but, often, the biggest obstacles to economic and business success are not financial or even business-related but mental.
Allison Williams is a Business Coach for Solo Law Firm Owners through her business Law Firm Mentor. She’s also the CEO and Founder of a multimillion-dollar law firm, the Williams Law Group. All lawyers are welcome to join the Law Firm Mentor Facebook group where lawyers share information about what they’re learning as they work to grow their firms. Law Firm Mentor also offers online courses (“More Money, More Free Time” and “Law Firm Accelerator”) business coaching, strategic planning, retreats, and much more.
Finally, Allison’s got a great podcast called Crushing Chaos in which she covers a great deal of ground on law practice management but also often hits how attitude, mindset, fear, and general life outlook can have as big an impact on your success as your profit margin. She also brought her podcast prowess to Financially Legal in a recent episode.
The groups above represent a small fraction of the communities where lawyers gather, both online and off. An attempt to catalog them all, especially at the length we’ve covered the groups listed above, would significantly extend the length of this post. However, there are a few more groups we’re familiar with, including some Gravity Legal partners, that we didn’t want to leave out.
This group, limited largely to estate planning and elder law lawyers, is led by Julieanne Steinbacher, the founding shareholder of Steinbacher, Goodall & Yurchak. The firm is an elder care and special needs law firm in Pennsylvania. Like many of the other groups, the Million Dollar Solution offers content, community, and in-person events. Along those lines, we at Gravity Legal are proud to sponsor their upcoming S3 Summit in Orlando Florida in October.
Richard James’s Partners Club is a private mastermind group for growth-minded attorneys and law firms. James’s broader ecosystem offers a wide variety of content - books, videos, and a blog - as well as a podcast. Gravity Legal will be with the Partners Club in San Diego in August of 2021. You can find out more about that event here.
We here at Gravity Legal have long been connected with the folks at “How To Manage.” This coaching and growth community boasts regular events and outsourced law firm CEO, COO, and CFO services. How To Manage also offers a great deal of content on their website to help firm owners navigate the challenges of personal and professional growth.
One final group that we really like is Lawyer on the Beach. Lawyer on the Beach is a free private Facebook group “for those who want to use systems to unchain themselves from their practice . . . .” The organizer and fearless leader is Regina Edwards of Edwards Family Law. While most discussions focus on technology tips and reviews there are also travel and remote work tips (of course), client referral opportunities, and other similar conversations. For those lawyers seeking that seemingly elusive sense of freedom, Lawyer on the Beach could be just the inspiration you’re looking for.
Whether at The Bar, the bar, conferences, or online, it turns out that lawyers like to gather. It may actually be that, given how much time they spend on their own, they need to gather. The explosion not only of online spaces but technologies that facilitate connection has been a boon for those lawyers looking to learn, network, coach and be coached, collaborate, and grow. Whether connecting up with one of those that we’ve mentioned here or one of the dozens or hundreds of others, lawyers and law firm leaders have a wide range of community options.