You are a subject-matter expert. One of the areas in which you are an expert might, for example, be litigating disputes between healthcare providers. But that is hardly the sum total of your expertise. Experienced healthcare litigators know quite a bit about how physicians groups operate and how doctors think and work. Almost every practicing attorney is a subject-matter expert in areas that are not limited to the narrow practice of law. Our hypothetical healthcare lawyer could use their knowledge of the healthcare industry to help clients who aren’t specifically in need of litigation services.
On some level this has always been true. Attorneys are book smart and many of us have the intellectual fire power to become a subject-matter expert in several areas. From a strategic planning perspective, what is new is the combination of economic, technological, and social forces impacting law firms. Those forces are making the practice of law more competitive, while simultaneously making it easier to reach more people with your varying areas of expertise.
So what is a solid law firm citizen to do?
Stop thinking that all your expertise must be channeled through the restrictive economic model that is the American law firm. Because of technology, informational experts can now tap into in a powerful economic model that among other things generates passive income. Suzi Orman makes more money selling books and other informational products in her sleep than most attorneys earn in several years. Moreover, informational entrepreneurs can lawfully pay referral fees and, when they want to sell their businesses, aren’t hampered by archaic Rules of Professional Conduct. Over the course of their careers, they can earn substantial speaking fees, royalties, and build enduring and valuable personal brands.
I know that most lawyers either look down at the Suzi Ormans of the world or feel that they could never do what she has accomplished. And there is some truth in that. She has built an informational empire that would be hard to duplicate. But the economic model that allows her to generate wealth while reaching millions is one that could benefit many lawyers. And best of all, becoming an informational entrepreneur doesn’t mean that you have to forego your law practice. If you love the practice of law, you can continue be part of a law firm.
So in what areas are you already an expert? You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert. You just need to have enough expertise to provide information and advice to people who would be willing to pay for it. If you have that level of expertise, there are countless ways of cheaply and efficiently disseminating that information in an entertaining and educational way.
Who knows, it might actually be better than billing hours. And I can tell you from personal experience, it’s fun and rewarding helping someone become an informational entrepreneur.
It’s at least worth considering, isn’t it?