So maybe you have heard that curiosity killed the cat – but should the fate of an unknown feline scare us off from embracing this important characteristic in our own careers? Most lawyers I know are uncomfortable with bringing curiosity into their professional development and approach to business. In stark contrast, entrepreneurs in my network crave and seek out ongoing learning and new experiences. I have recently done a lot of thinking about how lawyers and entrepreneurs differ in their relationship with curiosity, and what lawyers might learn from their self-starter friends.
cu·ri·os·i·ty (noun) A desire to know or learn.
Lawyers are looked to for guidance, and to be counselors for others to rely on. Our advice is valued enough to be written into business’ annual budgets and prioritized in times of tragedy and strife. I often wonder to what extent this role of counselor changes our perspective on what we are “supposed to know.” Perhaps because we are expected to know the answers, it is harder to admit to ourselves that we need to (or want to) continue learning. Have we painted ourselves into a corner, feeling like a desire to know or learn more is a sign of weakness? Have we lost our desire to learn anything that is not mandatory or billable research?
Entrepreneurs that I know are always looking for the newer, better, and more efficient method to run their businesses, market their product, or manage their team. Pride cannot stand in the way of increasing the profit margin by learning something new. I have on countless occasions heard entrepreneurs complain that they wish they had more time to attend webinars, conferences, and seminars – an ongoing struggle to split time between working on their business and in their business.
I have personally purchased two e-courses that I am excited to go through but have not had time to take yet. I also regularly carve out time to learn new tactics and trends in my entrepreneurial endeavors, but less enthusiastically do so in my legal practice. The excitement I see on my sister’s face when she learns about and launches a new management technique in her business leaves me wondering when the last time was that a lawyer felt such excitement about trying a new delegation system to create a more cohesive team in the office (if you are into learning delegation habits, check this out).
Think back to the last CLE you attended. Were lawyers listening with rapt attention? Or were numerous laptop screens open to surreptitiously do billable work? As soon as there was a break in the schedule, didn’t all of the attendees run out to check in by phone with their assistants and clients rather than talk to the speaker? Go to a social media conference for entrepreneurs – the screens may be open – but they will be open to relevant sites, streaming live tweets about the event, and engaging virtually with other attendees. As soon as there is a break, attendees will rush to chat with the speaker at the front of the room to get questions answered. Conversations buzz before and after the event.
Typically, lawyers see continuing education as a requirement with a minimum threshold, and as long as they show up they have met the requirement. But for entrepreneurs who are paying for attendance double fold (paying for the event, and not making money while they are attending the event) the importance of getting full value is doubly important. It is equally important that the knowledge translate into a direct action that will warrant the time and financial investment, so entrepreneurs will work hard to implement what they learned as soon as possible.
Lack of curiosity kills growth
But aren’t solo practitioners more like entrepreneurs than the average lawyer? So let’s challenge ourselves to be more present and curious in the learning process.
If you were to stop learning, would you be executing your duty as a lawyer effectively? Likely not. If you don’t stay on top of advances in case law, procedural requirements, and trends in your practice area, you may even be violating your ethical obligation to clients. But beyond just meeting minimum requirements and bar rules, it is important to set aside time to allow curiosity to flourish, to bring the entrepreneurial spirit into the practice of law.
The next time you see a webinar or learning opportunity, whether it is new knowledge for working on your business (marketing, business development, personal development) or in your business (substantive skills or CLEs) bring more playful curiosity to the situation. Throw caution to the wind and seek out knowledge based on how interesting a topic sounds, or who the speaker is – rather than just the cost per CLE credit hour value. Try and learn more about something you are interested in. While attending the event, make a point of being really present and engaged, and try to implement at least one new thing you learn in the month following the learning opportunity.
So let’s strike the old adage that curiosity killed the cat, and focus on how lack of curiosity kills growth. If you want a practice and career that continues to grow, consider embracing curiosity professionally.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.