The Exceptional Lawyer

September 11, 2008

Risk Analysis 623: For Mid-Level Partners

Filed under: Uncategorized — joshuahornick @ 1:34 pm

[This title of this entry was inspired by a conversation with a senior partner in the DC office of a leading US mega-firm.]

Most of us lawyers learned how to manage risk in our lives by taking care of everything that had to be taken care of.  We take care of our homework, we show up, we work hard, we get into a good college, a good law school, and a good law firm and, while life still has stresses, it’s all manageable.  Then we make partner.

The workload the first year in law school may have been too heavy, but it was ultimately manageable.  To bill 2000+ hours, answer every client email the same day, pursue all new business opportunities, attend three conferences and write two articles a year, sit on a firm committee, coordinate your team, mentor an associate, work out four times a week, get home for dinner every night, read the paper, and do whatever else you need to stay on top of your game is not manageable.  If you are trying to do all of this, you are playing a losing game.  If your strategy is to mitigate your risks by getting it all done, you will fail.  Your practice will suffer, and–even more–you will suffer.

You can no longer avoid risk by trying to get it all done, by taking care of everything.  A different strategy is called for.  You need a new game plan.

This is good news.  It creates the context in which you can be a winner, exceptional.

You have to create your own game.  Set the rules, and play to win.  The steps involved in this process are easy to understand (for a lawyer) and difficult to carry out well.

You start by getting a clear handle on what’s important to you and what you have to offer.  What do you need to develop professionally?  What do you need to do to know you are making an important contribution to your clients, to the firm, to society, to your family?   What’s important short term?  What’s important long term?  What level of physical fitness puts you at your best?  How much introspection?  How much prestige?  How much income?  What kind of clients feed your intellectual curiosity?  What motivates you best?

What you have to offer has to do with your abilities and your potential.  What are your strengths?  How can those be leveraged?  How do you relate with people?  Where could you be stronger?  What new skills or habits could you develop to amplify your results?  What improvements would have the biggest pay offs?

Then, you consider your opportunities and options.  What new realms of business are within your reach?  How could you pursue them?  What clients could you pass off or drop?  What steps could strengthen your team?  What ways could you optimize your expertise?  How could you make exercising a regular ritual?  How could you arrange for the best quality time with your family?

After this consideration is complete, you put your stake in the ground.  You say, this is what I can do.  You don’t put your stake where it’s easy to reach.  You choose someplace that’s going to stretch you, but someplace that’s winnable, that is to say manageable.

Now you are playing a winnable game.  You’ve taken control of your life; you chose.  You act authentically as your choice was based on who you are in your circumstances, not on trying to do everything that has to be taken care of.  Your enthusiasm grows naturally.  You still stretch and experience stress, but it’s in a whole new context.  This improves the quality of everything you touch.  Your practice thrives (on your terms and usually on the firm’s terms, too) and–even more–you thrive.

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September 8, 2008

You Can’t Do What Your Firm Wants You To Do

Filed under: Uncategorized — joshuahornick @ 10:16 am

Law firms are driven by the market.  The market demands short term profits.  Short term profits demand that the firm maximize billable hours.  (Most firms’ reward system is closely linked to billable hours, especially for associates and junior partners.)  Maximizing billable hours means you do nothing but billable work.  That means that 

  1. you do not do work that develops your expertise.  The result is that you do not improve your skills.
  2. you bill as much of your working time as can be defensibly billed.  The result is that clients are charged more for your service.  The clients become disenchanted with you, and you lose them.  And,
  3. you have no life outside your practice.  You become shallow, lonely, and miserable.

So, if you want to have slow professional development, no clients, and a miserable life, do what your firm wants you to do.

Or, you can figure out what you want and figure out how to have a relationship with the firm that benefits the firm while maximizing what you want.  Then, find peace in that.

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