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The biggest dillemma of Indian lawyers

What do you think is the biggest problem in your life?

“I feel I have not been able to do justice to my family. I do not feel like wearing that black dress, I hate going to my office, I do not feel like stepping foot inside that court again.”

This is a lawyer who has been practising for several years already. He was working at a nice law firm, and then quit to start his own practice 7 years back. 

I have known him for a while. So when he applied for a job with us, I was rather surprised. Why would you leave your own successful practice, shut down the office and join us for a job? 

So he told me the real story. 

Most lawyers have one story they project outside, and quite another battle they are fighting inside.

Here are some fun facts about lawyers:

  1. Out of all professions, lawyers are most prone to depression
  2. Out of all professions, lawyers are most prone to become alcoholic
  3. Out of all professions, lawyers have the most divorces

This is not just in India, but all over the world. Many countries do not track, but wherever such data is tracked, the story the numbers tell are scary.

I am telling you this real life story, while hiding the real name or any identifiable details about this lawyer so you can avoid this fate.

This guy is very smart, which is typical of a lot of lawyers in India. Really well spoken, polished, extraverted. 

In the beginning, it was great. 

He started litigating with a kind and passionate senior lawyer. In about 3 years, when his senior finally started paying him about 1 lakh per month, and he felt he got a hang of things and knew his way around the court, he started wondering if he should quit his job to do his own thing.

This is also when he got confidence to finally marry his college sweetheart given that he had a stable earning. 

He was a smart lawyer. He had a decent professional network. When he quit his job, he had enough savings for a year, but he never really had to touch it. India is a country with a lot of legal work and rather few competent lawyers. So if you are one of the competent few, you get by.

Another year passed.

He bought a car. He hired two juniors.

But his wife was complaining that he was spending too much time in the office.

He left before 9 am in the morning for the court. All day he ran from one forum to another in Delhi NCR. At around 5 pm he headed to his chamber to prepare for the next day. 

He would be done by 10 or 11 pm with his briefs on good days. On bad days, he would be lucky to sleep by even 3 am.

His wife was very unhappy about the situation. 

In desperation, he brought in a partner. In the beginning, things improved a bit for him. He was able to take some weekends off as this ‘partner’ handled some of the more hectic matters. He even went on a holiday with his family that summer.

But this partnership lasted 9 months only. Then this ‘partner’ walked out of the firm with 70% of his regular clients. He was stunned by the betrayal, but there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

His practice was set back by 2 years at least. Suddenly, he was back to the days of uncertain earnings while he had EMIs to pay.

On top of that he was back to working 14 hours per day and the weekends were working again. 

He could not take care of his health, and grew a potbelly.

He avoided looking at himself in the mirror.  

He was shocked that he was diagnosed with diabetes in his annual health checkup. 

Did you not try hiring juniors? I asked him.

Of course he did. Juniors walked in green horns, with absolutely no idea about how to do the work. And then they would need to be given a lot of time to be taught the ropes. Eventually as soon as they learned enough, they either left to join a bigger law firm that paid a lot more, or simply started their own things. It never worked for him.

It has been 4 years since he got married. His wife demanded divorce from him. 

This made him withdraw from social and family life altogether. He isolated himself. 

He tried to just work harder at the office and started drinking after work to get some relief. Then it started becoming a full blown alcoholism.

At one point he realised he was not just addicted, but clinically depressed.

He started seeing a therapist. And that is when he realised he had started hating his work. He felt it was his law practice that was at the source of what happened to him in his life.

He stopped going to court. He took a break for 3 months. He was paying rent for the office but could not bring himself to go and sit there. Then he finally rented it out to another lawyer. 

All his clients left him. The idea of going back to building a practice again from scratch scared him.

This is when he broke down and applied for a job.

He could not appropriately diagnose his problem, but I had seen it before.

His law practice was taking more from him than it gave. This is the story of many, many lawyers. You could look around and find them. Maybe it is a little bit of your story too.

Here is the problem: you learnt some law in college. But you did not learn how to be a lawyer. And you definitely did not learn how to run a law practice.

A law practice is a business. It needs to be run like one. It is not an extension of your ego. It is not your status. It is not your only pursuit in your life. 

It is your career, and it has to serve you. 

For that, it has to be built and run like a business.

Your law college education, no matter from which wonderful institution, was training you to be an appellate judge 😁 

It did not even train you to practice in court, and it definitely didn’t teach you how to run the business of law.

You needed training to understand and run the law business.

Every successful law practice has two components – a business development engine and a service delivery engine. 

Most lawyers do not have any engines, they are pulling their practice alone on their own. That is why they feel so tired, so drained out, so out of energy. That is why they have no time for themselves and their family.

Imagine that law practice is a cart and it is supposed to have two engines to go smoothly. 

Of course if you push it really hard and do not provide it with any engines it can still move forward inch by inch because you are pushing it with all your strength, but you are likely to go slow and get tired damn fast. This is what happened to the lawyer.

If you want to be successful in building a law practice, you have to think like an entrepreneur. Maybe like an MBA.

Being great as a lawyer, being great in legal research or a great thinking inside the courtroom facing salvo from the judges is no less heroic than building a business. But then you should work for someone else. If you want the privilege of working for yourself, of having your own law firm, you need to be equally good at business.

I explained a few more insights to this lawyer so that he could take the situation into his own hands. 

6 months later, he called me back. 

I asked him how things were. 

He had turned his practice around – it was back to its earlier levels, but this time he was working only strictly 8 hours per day 5 days a week. 

If there was a lot of work, he’d work for a few hours on Saturdays, but that didn’t happen too often anymore. 

His relationship had become as exciting as it had been when he had first met his wife in college. 

He would take off early from the office once a week to spend time with his wife on a date night, apart from being free on the weekend. 

He had joined a gym as well and was getting back in shape. 

He had taken a week’s break in the last quarter when he travelled abroad, and was planning to take another in the next 3 months.


How did he do it? 

Do you want to know the strategy? 

Of course it is because he effectively built a lead generation and delivery engine. Double engine sarkar, as they say.

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