Pitfalls Lawyers over 50 years old can Avoid to keep up with Younger Competition
On a regular basis, I meet attorneys in their 50s who tell me their compensation has dropped because they no longer originate business as they once did. Some tell me that their business owner clients have sold out or transitioned management of a closely-held company to a son or daughter. Others explain that the in-house counsel they have worked with for years has retired, or moved up in the client organization and a new general counsel appointed to replace them.
Those who replaced their key client contacts and referrals sources “wanted a lawyer their age,” they say. The lawyers with declining books of business don’t look for what they may have done that has contributed to their situation.
When I meet these lawyers, there are obvious commonalities. When I interview their former clients and former referrals sources I learn “wanting a lawyer their own age” was not the primary reason for the change in counsel. Clients and referrals sources instead say the reason they changed counsel was because their 50+ year-old lawyer gradually indicated they were not as competent, despite their experience, or as motivated about the practice of law as the younger lawyers selected to replace them.
Specifically, I see the following characteristics in veteran, usually over the age of 50, lawyers who report their practices are in decline.
They have largely quit attending functions or meetings of key trade groups where their clients and referral sources gather.
They (too) often say: “I’ve been practicing 30 years and my experience is…” This is obvious. Clients and referral sources tell me they find such statements irrelevant, even annoying. Some say it indicates their lawyer isn’t open to new ideas.
Many prefer the phone or use fax rather than email and scanning. They complain about and struggle to use technology. Many still dictate and type poorly. The phone has a diminished role in business— 80%+ of business communication is by email today.
Many have dated wardrobes and hair. They wear the same shirt worn with a tie without one. Their glasses have large lenses which are many years out of style.
Some say: “Just a second, I remember what that is. I’m having a senior moment.” Why say “My memory is not what is used to be?” an in-house lawyer recently told me.
Many are physically out-of-shape and do not project vitality.
When a non-lawyer bases the selection of counsel on anecdotal evidence it’s no surprise. They aren’t lawyers, so relying on non-legal factors in the selection process makes sense. What is revealing is that other lawyers rely on those factors, too.
Experience counts. Survey after survey shows that the two most important factors in selecting counsel are a familiarity with the legal issue at hand and knowledge of an industry. Veteran lawyers who avoid the pitfalls described above will compete (with younger lawyers) and maintain control of their file flow and rate. 
1. Bob Weiss is president of Alyn-Weiss and Associates, Inc., a Denver-based marketing consulting group which has worked with both corporate, transactional and defense firms and contingent fee practices nationwide for more than 20 years.