Nov 14, 2013
Living Beyond Your Task List
As a solo practitioner you are in charge of your success on all levels. Your legal matter tasks are piled upon and among administrative tasks, marketing tasks, and personal development tasks. On any given day you may be juggling tasks from all categories, plus personal errands, family obligations, and more.
I hear time and time again that in order to become an exceptional lawyer you need to do exceptional work over and over. I challenge this limited view of what an exceptional lawyer is, and propose that in order to become an exceptional lawyer you need to also take time to shape who you are becoming as a professional and as a leader.
What do you want to be famous for?
Have you ever been asked before what you want to be famous for? My guess is that off the top of your head, your gut reaction to this question is not “organizing closing binders,” “entering my billable time,” or “promptly responding to emails from partners.” However these types of tasks are the tasks you do on a regular basis in order to be seen as an efficient, productive, and proficient lawyer.
Hopefully, you want to be famous for something bigger – you want to carve a name for yourself as a leader in your firm, your field, or your community. Being famous doesn’t necessarily mean you have your own TV show about your great success. Fame could be as simple as being someone people ask for advice in your area of expertise or success.
I want to be famous for being both a serial entrepreneur and a successful trademark lawyer. I want to be a role model to show other lawyers that they can diversify their professional and personal goals to match their unique skills and priorities with a successful path. I believe that my success will help other lawyers who have unique skills and priorities to feel OK about breaking out of the traditional legal career path mold, to contribute to their community in a meaningful way.
Having this vision of what I want to be famous for, and why it is important helps me to see my short-term goals in context of bigger goals. On days when I feel spread too thin, or like I am unsure of my direction, I remember that this is all part of my larger plan. For me, just like for you, it is easy to get bogged down in the tasks related to furthering each of my goals – so being able to see the forest for the trees keeps me on track.
When thinking about how you prioritize your time and set goals I do encourage you to assess what tasks you need to do to be successful in your current position – but don’t lose sight of what you are working towards. It may be worthwhile to take a 15 minute break, grab some tea or coffee, and brainstorm in writing what it is that you want to be famous for.
Checking in regularly on how you want others to see you can remind you of the importance of keeping your word and acting in such a way that sets you up to have that type of reputation now and in the future.
Who do you want to become?
This questions is slightly nuanced from what you want to be famous for. Thinking about being famous for something is really thinking about the external perception of you by others. Thinking about who you want to become is thinking more about how you think about yourself and character traits you want to develop. It can also help you clarify why you chose your particular path to fame.
When you think about your end goal – of being famous in the way you want to be – who is it that you will have become along the journey in order to get there? Will you be confident? Efficient? Well-spoken? What character traits will you have mastered and developed?
Here is a fun exercise to tease out who you want to become. Pull to mind a person or a few people who you consider to be successful or famous in a similar field or manner as you want to be. Write down five or six character traits that you identify and respect in those people. Now imagine you really developing and honing those same traits to become a master – can you more vividly picture who you will be as you find more success?
If you want to be famous for something that is more pioneering, you may feel you have few people to look to for comparison. That is alright and to be expected if you are forging your path in a very new way than others have.
Part of the reason I want to be famous for being both a lawyer and an entrepreneur is because I feel there are so few role models to look up to in this way. I have some colleagues and peers who I connect with, and by combining some some of their best traits, I can hope for myself to become someone who is: a confident decision-maker, an eloquent speaker, an inspirational leader and manager, an innovative thinker, and a savvy problem solver.
If I ever hope to become famous in the ways I wish, I will need to continue focusing on improving the skills and developing character traits that others before me have leveraged to find success.
Continue moving forward
Now perhaps you are wondering why I am encouraging you to take time out of your day to brainstorm (daydream) about what you want to be famous for and who you want to become. I challenge you in this way because lawyers – especially solo practitioners – can too easily get caught up in rushing from one task to the next without seeing the bigger picture.
If you want to be famous for being a frazzled lawyer who just gets by, and become someone who is unsure, without direction, or overwhelmed, then just living in your task list may be all you can handle. But if you want more out of your career and life, then you need to begin to see how valuable and exceptional you can be, above and beyond the tasks you handle with skill.
If you were to reach out to the person or people you thought of when identifying the character traits you need to adopt and hone to be famous and successful, and ask them if they had planned on finding the success that they have – I would bet you that 9 times out of 10 they will assure you that they have been working towards their goals for years. Few people just stumble upon great success. Most great leaders envision their future success and are constantly working on moving closer and closer to their vision of success and fame. The end goals and role models may shift as time goes on, but those who you look up to now have likely been working for years on becoming someone you can look up to.
So in addition to completing your tasks well, in all the roles you have as a solo practitioner, also take the time to think about the future vision of yourself. Check in regularly with yourself about what you want to be remembered and respected for and what you need to master in order to get there (who you will become). If you want, you can take it a step further and share your ideas about where you want your career to go and who you want to become with people in your life – in this way you can give more life to your goals and keep moving forward.
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®.