Remember when graduating law school was a golden ticket to a great-paying, fulfilling job making a difference for people, companies or the planet?
Young lawyers today know that’s simply no longer the case.
If you want the trifecta of happiness wealth, and fulfillment in your legal career, you need to shift from lawyer think to entrepreneur think.
Whether you’re working for a big firm, hoping to make partner or going it on your own, three shifts in thinking will result in guaranteed internal and external success in your own law practice as we transition into the new economy.
By the time you’re done reading this article, you will have the mental framework for not only a new law business model, but a whole new way of thinking about why you are here, what you are doing and how to win at the practice of law.
Making these shifts allowed me to build my law practice from scratch into a $1 million-plus-per-year business, while going into my office only a few days a week. It wasn’t easy, but it was sure worth it. And I know it will be for you too.
Law school taught you to think like a lawyer, and I see it as my job to undo and update any parts of that thinking that are keeping you stuck.
Don’t worry, you’ll still retain everything you need to serve your clients, but let’s replace the rest with true entrepreneurial thinking; the kind of thinking that will help you have what you really want: happiness, wealth and genuine fulfillment.
1. Be Willing to Not Know (or Even to Be Wrong)
Law school trained us how to be right. For most lawyers, the idea of saying, “I don’t know, let me get back to you” to a client is horrifying. Wanting to seem to know everything and never show vulnerability or uncertainty carries right through into our jobs and businesses. It’s a huge detriment.
When you already know the answer and you’ve convinced yourself it’s right, your mind has no room for anything new. It results in skepticism that eventually turns into cynicism, distrust and ultimately curmudgeonly, self-righteous unhappiness.
I’ve seen it again and again in lawyers who entered law school as bright, enthusiastic students – eager to learn from others. But as soon as their law degree was conferred, they suddenly believed they were supposed to pretend they know everything. Next, they forgot they were pretending….and started to believe they actually DID know everything.
Real power comes from approaching every situation with curiosity, a beginner’s mind, and a willingness to be wrong. Plus, you become a whole lot more pleasant to be around, even to yourself.
Assignment: Next time someone asks you a question and you are not really 100 percent sure of the answer, say “I don’t know, let me get back with you,” and watch how their respect for you grows. And practice this is in the mirror tonight: “You know, you just may be right; let me consider that possibility,” and then actually give consideration to the words, thoughts and feeling of those around you.
2. Be Willing to Ask for (and Receive) Help
If it’s hard for us lawyers to say, “I don’t know,” it may be even harder for us to ask for help and then receive it when it shows up.
We are fiercely independent, competent and capable.
We can write the scathing letter to opposing counsel, format it on letterhead, print it out, put it in the envelope, put a stamp on it and get it in the mail.
We can draft the operating agreement, send it out to all the parties, solicit feedback, compile the edits, review the redline, send it back out for feedback and get it in final form for signature.
We can draft the complaint, get it on pleading paper, and get it down to the courthouse to get filed.
And while we are at it, we can answer the phones, customize the practice management software, set up the billing software, prepare invoices, fix the printer…
…and, well, you get the point.
I know you get it because you are probably doing something like this every day. Because you are so damn competent.
And you are drowning.
No one ever taught you how to ask for help, work with an assistant, and build a team of support people around you.
And, you might think, why pay someone else to do what I can do better? It would take just as long for me to tell someone what to do as it would for me to just do it myself.
It’ll drive you to an early grave if you don’t shift it.
While you CAN do everything, you need to stop now. Instead, your objective is to ONLY do what ONLY you can do. If someone else can do it, they should.
Assignment: For the next week, track every minute of your day using a time-tracking app on your phone and get real about all the things you are doing that others could be doing for you. Make a commitment to find, hire and train someone to do those things for you.
And, yes, you are going to have to make the investment of time, energy and money to find, hire and train a team if you are working for yourself, but it’s the best investment you will ever make.
3. Invest In Your Growth and Know Your Numbers
Speaking of investment, you likely think that investing in your law degree was your last big investment and now you can focus on bringing in income to pay down your student loans.
That’s more lawyer think.
When you think like an entrepreneur, you realize you that investing in your law degree was just the beginning. That investment becomes worth a whole lot less if you stop now.
You are still your best investment; in fact, you are an even better investment now that you have your degree.
Lenders WANT to lend to you, especially if you’ve got a great credit score and you’ve been working for a firm for a while and can show income.
Why? Because you have huge potential when you know how to leverage your degree into a business that serves the new economy.
The key to investing in yourself, whether you do it through borrowing, savings or revenue, is to get intimate with your numbers.
If you are at all like me, the idea of this is somewhat frightening. One of the reasons I chose the legal path is because I was so anti-math. But, money math is different, and when you learn how to watch your numbers from a business perspective, you are on the path to unlimited wealth potential.
So, make the investment in learning what numbers are important, how to track them and what to do with them once you do, so you can feel confident investing in your own growth.
Assignment: Hire a coach to help you figure out what you really want to do, a mentor who has already done what you want to do to guide you to do it, and a team to support you in actually getting it done.
These are three of the most important shifts in thinking you can make if you want to be truly successful with your law degree—experiencing happiness, wealth and fulfillment.
This article first appeared in Law Practice Today here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/newsletter/publications/law_practice_today_home/lpt-archives/march13/think-like-an-entrepreneur-and-love-being-a-lawyer.html