From Cog to Engine: the Lawyer’s Guide to Happiness & Fulfillment in Practice

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Explore:  Career Development

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin

2012-07-16 21.36.25When you go to work each day, do you wonder if the work you do that day will really matter? Will it be remembered? Does your company value you? Do your clients? Do you go home each day and look in the mirror and say, “Today, I was a good lawyer”?

There are plenty of lawyers who can be perfectly happy working for someone else, as a cog in the great engine of commerce. For these folks, the stability of an employer-employee relationship is essential to their peace of mind.

But if the statistics of lawyer alcoholism and dissatisfaction are accurate, it’s likely that most lawyers can’t, and don’t feel that they are important practicing the profession as a cog in the great engine. Many are wandering around in a fog of not mattering, unhappy serving who they’re serving and finding that a big paycheck doesn’t cure the ill of disconnection from their families and communities.

Most people, lawyers included, yearn to have the experience of deploying their unique skills and knowledge to serve in a way that would be valued and remembered. We want to affect people in a concrete way. With the crumbling of the big law firm model, more lawyers are taking matters into their own hands to become legal entrepreneurs. Unfortunately though, most lawyers aren’t trained to be entrepreneurs, they’re trained to be legal thinkers and to take their place in the great engine of industry. These two mindsets don’t easily and peacefully co-exist.

An Entrepreneur must figure out HOW to do something. A Lawyer must figure out what the risks are of doing that something and prevent that risk. Lawyers have a natural break pedal built into their mindset. But for any of us to become business owners, we must do everything in our power to break that mindset and learn become the engines of our businesses.

Becoming an engine can be terrifying. It means we have to take responsibility for everything! Like any other industry, the business of law requires systems, procedures, marketing, reporting, reliability, and above all, predictable revenue. With the support and coaching of Alexis and Law Business Mentors, facing my own fears in becoming a business owner required me to examine my cog-like mindset and challenge my ideas about how I should show up in my work. Because I had an employee (Cog) mindset, the transition into full emotional and mental ownership of my business challenged me to see all of life in a new, liberating way. Here are some of the things that have helped, and continue to support me to stay in the entrepreneurial mindset:

  1. Recognize that No Job is Safe. In the emerging global economy, no one’s job is safe. Even law firm partners are getting ousted from their firms. If no one is safe, how will you deal when you are laid off? What would you do to make a living? If you haven’t considered that at length, plan to do so this year.
  2. Back Yourself into a Corner. Create your life around the idea that failure not is an option. Announce to everyone you know your intention to create and grow a successful business. Put your reputation and your word on the line. Commit to taking whatever action is necessary to be successful.
  3. Picture Yourself 50 Years from Now. When the going gets tough, spend a few minutes envisioning you 50 years from now. What would your future self say to you in this moment? What would your future self wish you would have done? Did you quit because it got to hard? If so, what does your future self say about that? Did you keep going, responding to your business and the market with courage and determination? What does your future self say about that? What words of wisdom does your future self have for you about taking care of yourself? About taking care of your family? What experiences does your future self want for you now?
  4. Prioritize Revenue Generating Activities. When you take a look at your business finances each week, ask yourself if are you focusing on the things that make you money or the things that keep you busy? This is important. Remember, the Cog mindset wants things to get done. The Engine mindset wants to make money. These two parts of you will war for your attention. You must give priority to the revenue-generating part of you. One way to make sure you do that is to calendar specific days of the week devoted to the business owner part of you and giving full attention to only revenue-generating activities. Anything else you spend time on is a sub-optimal use of your time. You may have to do many other things as you begin your practice, but eventually, you will want to be focused exclusively on your revenue generating activities, and offload all others by creating solid business systems that support you.
  5. Create Systems that Support You, but Don’t Reinvent the Wheel. When I first started, I was able to deploy a set of systems that had already been invented by my friend and colleague, Alexis, through her Personal Family Lawyer program. Thank heaven for these systems because if I had tried to reinvent that wheel, I’d still be inventing! A lawyer needs many systems: client attraction, engagement, service, retention, finance, drafting, client interaction, and feedback are the essentials. If you don’t know where to start, click here for more information about the Personal Family Lawyer Program.
  6. Figure Out What Will Make Your Business Sellable. A business that cannot be sold is just a job. You can build a job if you like and not worry about creating a business to sell, but I’m actually in this for the day when I can gratefully move into a new phase of life. What makes a business sellable? Cash flow. That’s it. Plain and simple. Anyone who buys a business buys it for cash flow. That means that a law firm, which can only be bought by another lawyer, has to be able to generate cash for the new owner.  Think of this journey as a discovery of what generates cash flow for you, and how you can maintain a healthy relationship with your clients for life—not just for a one-time transaction.
  7. Give Yourself Three Full Years. Building a business doesn’t happen overnight. Practically every professional I’ve ever spoken to has said that building a practice took them three years to be somewhat self-sustaining. Three years of full-time nose down work. Don’t schedule more than a week away from your business in that three-year period. If you’re not willing to do that, then don’t start the business. After three years, you’ll notice your phone rings regularly, you don’t have to worry nearly as much about steady revenue. This is also a good time to re-envision your business. Are you at a plateau? Do you need a fresh influx of cash to breach a plateau? What is your firm’s mission and vision now? How has it changed? What have you learned? What new data do you want to consciously infuse into your business?
  8. Develop an Integrated Marketing Plan. A well-thought out, multi-faceted marketing plan will help you become the go-to person for your market and audience. Don’t skimp on marketing. It’s the fuel of your business. I’ve seen businesses be tanked by a new owner who decided not to spend on marketing. That’s shortsighted and ill fated. Don’t not market! Some marketing techniques are expensive, but there are ways to attract your ideal client on a budget. Combining many forms of media will help your ideal client fly to you like moths to a flame. But blow out that flame, and POOF! Nothing.
  9. Surround Yourself with Supportive People. If you hang out only with people who have a Cog mindset, you will not easily be able to shake your own Cog mindset. Reach out to other business owners, through masterminds, networking groups and your own friend network. Be careful in attending a lot of lawyer events. Remember that lawyers are not generally entrepreneurial and will tend to tell you all the reasons you can’t do something. Find attorneys to associate with that will help you figure out HOW to do something while staying in compliance with all of our ethical rules and obligations. When you get overwhelmed, and you will, it is the people you surround yourself with that will make or break your willpower. If they support you, you can carry on. If they sabotage you, you will quit.
  10. Get Your Spouse and Family on Board. Spouses can FREAK OUT at the idea of starting a business. That’s totally understandable. If after careful consideration of all your options, knowing the instability in the legal profession, and after an analysis of your firm’s potential in your area, and all the pros and cons of starting a business, your spouse is not on board, this could be due to unexamined wounds and worries triggered by childhood money trauma. We all have money wounds, but our current psychological profession doesn’t directly address the depth and profoundness of the wounds money trauma can bring in our lives. There are some wonderful money therapy/money consciousness programs available online. Please contact support@newlawbusinessmodel.com if you would like a referral to one of our partners in this area.
  11. Remember, There Are No Guarantees ANYWHERE. There’s a lot of solace in knowing that no one is guaranteed tomorrow. No one is guaranteed another day of life or another dollar of income. Not in a job, not in a business. How liberating it is, then to be at the helm of your own life, the decision maker, largely, in how much money you make, who you impact, who you spend your time with? In twenty years, I foresee, that most people in the United States and elsewhere will be independent contractors who are in control of their own work lives, removing from companies the responsibility for our well-being and putting it in our own hands. How much better we will take care of ourselves than a company will!

As a Personal Family Lawyer®, supported by Alexis, Craig, and the Law Business Mentor team, I have found a home among attorneys who practice with a philosophy of service to clients that keeps me going and inspires me. The impact of my work is remembered and profound. When a client leaves a meeting saying, “That was awesome!” and stepping out the door with a lightened load and a smile, I know that I’ve been a good lawyer. And I’m free.