Ten Thousand Hours


Before you start reading, take 5 minutes to listen to Macklemore’s “Ten Thousand Hours” here.


My nephew Brian spent two summers with us a few years ago—when he was just 16. Brian plays guitar. Each day he’d sit on the couch for hours, picking half a song out, then stopping and starting something new, over and over. I’d hear his beautiful music waft down from his bedroom, stirring the household awake or lulling it to sleep.

Once I asked him why he played so much since he wasn’t in a band, had no gigs and no prospects of gigs in his future. He said simply, “I’m working on my 10,000 hours.” I smiled knowing this young man had the kind of determination that will take him places.

In his bestseller, “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that…

It takes ten thousand hours of dedicated practice to become an expert at something.

Gladwell was referring to Anders Ericsson’s research of musical genius and the effort it takes people to become an accomplished musician. In fairness, the idea is more complicated than the rule suggests, but for lawyers just getting started, it’s a fair description of the effort it takes to become an expert at one’s practice area.

For a regular working person, ten thousand hours equals five years of full time work, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year.

I work 55+ hours a week. I’ve estimated the time I’ve invested toward my 10,000 hours at 8,250. Not quite there yet, but well on my way.

When I first started at hour zero, I wanted everything to be spoon-fed to me.

I wanted to know everything I could, and I wanted my friend Alexis Neely to teach it all to me.

In retrospect, I can’t believe I thought that!

No one person, could have, would have, nor should have been expected to hand me my 10,000 hours all wrapped up in a neat little package.

Yet, there is an expectation that, once we’re out of law school, we’re done with learning to be a lawyer and we actually get to be a lawyer. That our “expert” status will just be handed to us.

It used to be that new attorneys would acquire their 10,000 hours through an apprenticeship, which more recently became a lucrative job with a firm as an associate right out of law school.

Associates were trained at a very steep cost to the firm—in some cases over a million dollars were spent on each new graduate in the first three years.

Only after three years, at the earliest, would associates become income-producing and able to pull some of their own weight.

The new lawyers themselves rarely had any idea of the cost to the firm to train them, aside from their salaries and benefits packages.

But we all know now that the legal world doesn’t work that way anymore.

As you well know, the times, they are a changin’.

Law firms are not investing in newbie lawyers, because clients aren’t willing to pay the hourly rates new attorneys are billed out at and firms aren’t willing to foot the giant bill for training anymore.

Established firms want experienced lawyers with a book of business they can bring to the party.

Firms want lawyers who can go out and bring in new business, who can market the firm, and who can do more than just write a good brief.

Think about if it for a minute…

Law firms no longer want practicing lawyers, they want entrepreneurs.

But who’s training entrepreneurial lawyers?

If you can’t get your post-graduate legal training at a law firm (where they do not teach entrepreneurship at all anyway), what on earth are new lawyers and lawyers who want a fresh start to do?

There’s only one way to go. Go out and claim your 10,000 hours for yourself.

Become an expert in a narrowly defined practice area.

You can absolutely learn to be a business owner and entrepreneur, right out of law school. And when you do, you can give yourself far more than any law firm could ever give you—a nimble business mind, the ability to create your own revenue, and liberation from working for someone else for their profit.

At Law Business Mentors, we help attorneys select their practice area with wisdom and foresight, acquire the business skills they need to succeed, and lay a solid foundation of business in those first few thousand hours.

Then, we’re supporting lawyers throughout and beyond that 10,000 mark to build practices that sustain them, contribute to their communities, and that are a blessing to all who encounter them.

If you’re ready to give yourself the gift of 10,000 hours, we can help.  It has to start with you narrowing down the focus of your practice.  If you are trying to serve everyone with a variety of different practice areas, you simply won’t get there in your lifetime.  It’s time to shift from Door Lawyer to Highly Paid Legal Expert with an entrepreneurial business to support you.

We’ve got the 10,000 hours to get you the entrepreneurial skills you need to turn your law degree into the most valuable asset you have.

About the Contributor

Martha Hartney
Martha Hartney's is a successful Estate Planning lawyer in Colorado and co-creator of the Estate Planning Bootcamp. As a Law Business Mentor her greatest hope is to help other lawyers claim, or reclaim, the joy and the spiritual pursuit of being a lawyer.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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