(While this post originally was penned for our sponsor’s blog, ALPS, it received such a positive response from their audience I thought I would publish the original, unedited version on our own SPU blog.)
.…..of course there are probably more than nine but these really would have helped me when I opened my practice right out of law school.
1. The Pareto Principle.
The 80/20 rule is traditionally known as The Pareto Principle. The Pareto Principle says that 80 percent of the value you will receive will come from 20 percent of your activities.
If you truly get this, you’ll see that you can pretty much pull back on the time you spend on non-essential or unproductive activities to concentrate on the twenty percent of the personal and professional activities which give you true value and return for your investment of blood, sweat and tears. Whether marketing, networking, marketing to and then culling your client list, if you’re able to apply this principle you’ll find you have considerably more time and energy to spend on those activities which really bring you personal value and satisfaction such as time with loved ones, great cases and clients, hobbies, and so much more.
2. Parkinson’s Law.
Parkinson’s Law basically stands for the proposition that an assignment or obligation will not only expand into the time allotted for completion but will also seemingly become more complex. I certainly never knew the name for this phenomenon but I definitely have experienced it! For instance, if you commit to finding and resolving a problem within two weeks, the problem will seem to exponentially grow in difficulty over those same two weeks and you’ll spend even more time trying to come up with a solution.
Therefore, focus on finding solutions. Then just give yourself one week instead of two, two days instead of four, thirty minutes instead of sixty, to solve the problem. This actually forces your mind to stay focused on solutions and action rather than the looming amount of time you’ve allotted to find the solution.
Of course, the end result may not be 100 percent perfect if you go back to The Pareto Principle, 80 percent of the value of this solution will come from 20 percent of the energy you expended to find it. But what most likely will happen is you will end up with a better resolution because you didn’t over complicate things. You’ll certainly get things done more quickly, develop laser-focus when working on your projects and ultimately end up with more free time to now focus on new work instead.
We all run a business and have mundane administrative minutiae to attend to which, while boring to say the least, is still critical to our solo practices and our lives. Putting them off and knowing they still need to be addressed creates a persistent and nagging anxiety that sucks the joy out of our more enjoyable activities. You know exactly what I’m talking about. It creates guilt!
A great way to tackle these tasks and get them done with relative speed is to batch them. What is batching? You commit a certain amount of time to doing a certain number of tasks one after the other…. without breaks. You want to eliminate start and stop times that come with spacing them out in your schedule. When you batch, you are also staying focused on the task at hand. You are less likely to make critical mistakes due to distractions (this includes social media, emails and phones!) and you will enjoy tremendous satisfaction once you complete the tasks.
4. Do Not Have A Scarcity Mentality
This is The Go-Giver parable. When you give value first with no expectation of return, you inevitably get more value than you could have imagined. A scrooge keeps exactly what he earns and can tell you to the penny his net worth. A generous person gets back more than he could ever spend and knows that what he has can never be measured.
If you want to increase the value you receive in this life, whether respect, love, friendship, opportunities, even money, you have to increase the value of what you give. You cannot have a scarcity mentality. It’s that simple.
5. Be proactive. Not reactive.
If you want something in life, reach for it with both hands. If you expect what you desire to magically fall into your lap, a job, a great client, a brilliant mentor, not only will it probably never happen, but other things will fall into your lap that you don’t want. While you’re reacting to what you now have that you never wanted you will miss the opportunities you could have reached for that you did want. And that happens to the majority of people. Be in the minority. The successful minority.
Simply take the first step and set your future in motion. Don’t be the catcher, be the pitcher.
6. Mistakes and failures are critical to success.
We love to watch little kids, especially our own, learn new things. They will try something they’ve never done before and even if they don’t succeed at first, they keep trying, failing, trying, failing, trying until they succeed. Most often they are enjoying the entire process flashing a triumphant smile when they hit their goal. As you get older you stop trying as much because you calculate your chances of succeeding or failing. Other people’s experiences as well as your own get in the way. Then you stop being proactive and trying new things period. You simply start reacting. Fear of failure is endemic in the legal profession. You wait for someone else to make an effort, afraid to fail because you don’t want people to see you not succeed, or worse, make a fool of yourself or hurt a client. You are choking down your creativity and your aspirations because, quite simply, you are afraid.
Perhaps people will laugh at you. Perhaps some bored lawyer will take your mistake and use you as a social media punching bag for a few days. Perhaps you will make an honest mistake with a client and have to fix it or deal with some form of reprimand. But when you experience that you soon realize that it’s not the end of your professional world. Quite frankly, most people don’t care what you do as long as you don’t hurt others. As lawyers, we have to pay attention to not hurting our clients. But for the most part, we all have our own professional and personal challenges to worry about and we’re just not that concerned about yours!
Success in love and life most often comes from not giving up despite mistakes and failure. It comes from being persistent in the face of challenges even when others will tell you to stop trying.
7. Don’t be Intimidated.
It is so very easy to let the wealth of experiences others possess in this profession make you feel small and awkward and inept. It doesn’t help when the profession as a whole reinforces your fears. But you can’t let yourself be intimidated. Every single person who has more experience than yourself didn’t have that experience when they started out. Yet, somehow they managed to acquire the experience they needed (and trust me, only a small percentage acquired it from Big Law) and it wasn’t from being intimidated. It wasn’t running from the challenge, it was dealing with the challenge. It was from embracing #5 and #6. It’s your turn.
8. Every lawyer is unique.
I bet this one surprises you. Yes, every single lawyer is unique. Maybe the law schools and the public don’t view us this way but that’s not because each lawyer isn’t unique. It’s because each lawyer tries to copy everyone else’s presentation of what they think a lawyer should be and this stifles creativity and innovation. When 100 lawyers fight to do exactly the same thing in exactly the same way, we call it a glut. When 100 lawyers each bring a unique presentation and skill set to what they do it’s a whole different perception.
When I taught my course at Quinnipiac University School of Law in my How to Hang A Shingle Right Out of Law School or Shortly Thereafter, the first thing I told my students was that I fully expect to get thirty different business plans because each one of them comes from a different background, a different set of experiences, and has different motivations, goals and ambitions for their practices. No two students are alike. The only similarities in their plans should be clear recognition of what you can and cannot do based upon the rules governing lawyers as determined by the governing jurisdiction. Otherwise, the sky is the limit. No two lawyers are the same nor should they present the same.
9. You become what you think you’ll become.
Muhammad Ali said, “What you’re thinking is what you’re becoming”. He was the greatest boxer because he wanted to become the greatest boxer. He worked hard, maybe harder than most to achieve his goal. When I decided to open a law practice (with two other new grads) directly upon graduation I was ridiculed. I was actually told I had hutspah but it was said in the tone of ‘you’re crazy’. I did it anyway and it turned out more than just fine. If you want to be a successful solo practitioner, you will become a successful solo practitioner. You will struggle, you will have challenges. I did. But if you set your mind to it, you will do it.
These are the 9 things I wish I had learned in law school.
So, do you have any life lessons geared towards productivity and mindset you would like to share and which can benefit others?
5 comments on “9 Things I (Really, Really) Wish They Taught Me In Law School”
Great list, Susan. #8 really resonated with me. I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote:
“No two students are alike. The only similarities in their plans should be clear recognition of what you can and cannot do based upon the rules governing lawyers as determined by the governing jurisdiction. Otherwise, the sky is the limit.”
While this is certainly true, I think most lawyers really believe there is just one plan that we all must follow. Why else would the entire profession (for the most part) look and act the same?
The sad part is lawyers are following the rules. Just not the ones you speak of. Some lawyer somewhere decided that all lawyers need to do things a certain way. The law schools became the gatekeepers of these “best practices” and taught them to generations of lawyers. And what started off as best practices have now become the standard that we all need to comply with.
For better or worse, these are the rules that really govern our profession. Does billing in 6 minute increments serve our clients? No. We do it to conform to industry standards. And if you organize your business to serve the standard (not the client), you end up just copying everyone else.
This is why the legal industry is in trouble. We are serving the gatekeepers rather than our clients. If we thought about the customer first, I really believe most lawyers would stop doing the same old thing and embrace their uniqueness.
Kelli, you’ve also hit the nail on the head and said it very well. So, is it the ABA which needs to be turned on it’s head? We’re self-governing. Do we need to rework our ‘government’?
The Poli-Sci major in me knows that revolutions never happen from the top down. I doubt the ABA will change unless there’s a concentrated effort amongst the members to change it, and I don’t see the numbers needed to make real change happen.
On the other hand, you are absolutely right when you said that lawyers have a lot of freedom in what they can do. Unfortunately, not enough attorneys are pushing their limits and asking “why am I playing to serve the standard?” It’s easier to do what’s always been done than figure out what to do differently. That has to change.
Very true! Thanks for the insights!!
What a little gem this post is. Nice job…
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