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Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: Finders, Minders, and Grinders

From Washington Lawyer, April 2010

By Jacob A. Stein

spectatorThe person who made the satirical comment that a law practice is made up of Finders, Minders, and Grinders knows the game. The Finder brings in the client. The Minder keeps the client happy. The Grinder (see Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener) reads and writes, and never sees the client.

The Finders I have known are not all alike. I shall describe a few. I start with Fred. He had a number of odd jobs before he attended a mid-level law school as a night student. During the day he was an insurance adjuster.

His law school grades were unremarkable. After law school, he continued as an adjuster until he obtained, with some help from his hometown congressional delegation, a legal position with a governmental agency.

He was gifted with a surface warmth that attracted people. With it he climbed the bureaucratic ladder to a level where he had some power. Once there, he was as helpful as he could be with those who, in the business world, needed the agency’s help.

He accepted invitations to speak at business conventions. He was a good speaker. He remained to answer the attendees’ questions after each speech. By this time, he was a man of experience. In the words of Aldous Huxley:

Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.

When politics changed the way the agency did business, he joined a moderately sized law firm specializing in his former agency’s work. He wrote letters to those he had met when he was with the agency. The executive director of a trade group he spoke with after one of his speeches retained him. Executive directors are a good source of business.

Now he was the Finder who needed a Minder. The Minder must be available to the client at all times. Furthermore, he or she must remind the client what a gifted lawyer the Finder is. The Minder usually becomes a single Finder’s chief of staff, making sure the Grinder is doing his or her work and that the client is kept happy.

As we can see, without the Finder, there are no clients. Without the Minder, there is no backup to attend to the client’s needs. Without the Grinder, there is no one bringing in the law.

Let me describe another Finder. She had an outstanding academic record, graduating with honors from a top law school. She clerked for an appellate judge. She then went to the U.S. Department of Justice. Three years later she went with a large law firm, commencing as a Minder. She watched the way the Finder did things. She learned rather quickly that she had more ability than the Finder. She captured a few firm clients and then went to another firm, as a Finder.

Milton Gould was an active New York trial lawyer. His partner was William Shea. They were both Triple-A Finders. Mr. Gould was a winner in court. Mr. Shea was influential in New York politics. What Mr. Shea could not resolve out of court, Mr. Gould resolved in court. The courtroom winner types, such as Gould, Ed Williams, and Mel Belli, get the clients as long as they win and publicize the wins.

There is a special type of Finder who gets good grades in law school, goes straight to a prestigious law firm, and remains there. He is a moderately good Finder. He gets business within the firm and from friends he met in college and law school. Friends who are doing well in the business world and are general counsel in large firms.

In today’s market, when a lawyer is invited to leave his firm he contacts a placement person, the headhunter, who first wants to know whether that person is a Finder. Does he have a book of business, a list of his own clients? Without that he cannot get the money he wants.

When a Finder believes he is not being appreciated by his partners, he, too, will speak to a headhunter. He is confident there are firms that want him. If this Finder has had trouble with other firms that did not appreciate him, his big book of business may not be enough for him to join the type of firm he wants.

Prominent politicians who leave public service to join a law firm are not necessarily successful Finders. They either make it fast or they don’t. Those who work for the politicians, most of the time, do very well.

There are some excellent lawyers who never get clients. Then there are lawyers who have the magic. They meet people in an elevator and, going from the 10th floor to the lobby, they have a good client.

If you are not a Finder, if you do not have the magic, don’t despair. You may be that person who finds work as a lawyer in a setting that Primo Levi described—a setting consistent with the ancient, timeless destiny that measures you against the world through your own work, where you risk getting it wrong and where you can try and try again until you hit the target. Take that, you skeptics.

Reach Jacob A. Stein at jstein@steinmitchell.com.