Well, let me start this blog by beginning to answer a question that I get asked quite often “Why did you go to law school with all the changes going on in the legal world” What some are really asking, but being too polite to say directly, is “You do realize that you picked a bad time to be a lawyer don’t you? I mean ten years ago you could have made good money doing it….but for most people it’s just not that way anymore.” This is not just the concerns of a few “non-legal” types, you can hardly attend a social function or legal gathering without hearing the same things again and again… “no money in it anymore”… “law school will not prepare you for it”… “can’t get clients…can’t get paid by clients…clients want too much from you”…and God forbid that the topic of LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer come up. And it is not just practitioners that have a doom and gloom outlook, it seems that many books I have read lately echo this sentiment. Some of my favorite authors have combined for quite the gathering of book titles. If I just look on my bookshelf I can take Bruce MacEwen, Steven Harper, and Richard Susskind titles and come to the quick conclusion that – Tomorrow’s Lawyers live in a Lawyer Bubble where Growth is dead, and they must Adapt or Die.
Now in true legal fashion I must disclaim…I love these books and agree with their central theme, as I also agree with the general observation of my legal friends. Where I deviate from the pack is in the pessimistic view of what these observations and themes mean for practicing attorneys and new lawyers coming right out of the gate (or on the final lap like me and my fellow restaurateur classmates). I don’t question the reality which is that the legal landscape is shifting…no strike that, the legal landscape has shifted and is about to flip on its side. But don’t panic, I see real opportunity in the legal industry for lawyers and “non-lawyers” (Yes I said it out loud) to find a new niche, or re-invent an old one, and find success. However, some new skills and mindsets may be required.
That my friends, is where we hit the first obstacle. As Bruce MacEwen put it, in a way only he can, “we’re [Lawyers] (again) more than two standard deviations less resilient than average people…We don’t handle them [setbacks] well at all. We’re actually rather brittle and insecure. This goes hand in glove, to my mind, with our pessimism. The great original sin in America is not, after all, being knocked down; the sin is not bouncing back up. We don’t bounce very well.” Ouch! But you know what, I can associate with that. I do not like setbacks, at all. It hurts my pride, and can hit me square in my self-image, the same self-image that fuels me to try new things and feel like I can do anything I set my mind to.
So how do we on one hand embrace change, celebrate failures, and on the other realize that we don’t like setbacks? For me the answer is in networking…I know that word is as worn out as “value added” and “customer centric”, but also as relevant to finding success in what has now become a mahogany jungle. You see when you network with people in your profession, not just the ones complaining that “the state doesn’t pay enough on appointed criminal cases”, but with others who are saying “the world has changed, how do I capitalize on it” you began to see what is working (and save yourself some failures), while also recognizing that those who are trying and failing the most are the ones leading the way. I have always had a saying, show me someone who has never made a mistake and I will show you someone who isn’t doing anything.
So here is what I have done, and am continuing to do more. Reach out to people who are making new roads into new areas, or new paths in the old forest. Talk, and ask questions…I have found people VERY willing to talk and share ideas, including money making areas of practice. In later blogs I will be discussing this in more details, but to put it simply … it has resulted in great opportunities for me.
I also realize this is not the first industry to undergo enormous change, and won’t be the last. I spent more than 15 years in the Technology industry during a time when it saw the biggest changes you can imagine. If you’re looking to other industries to get a sense of what works you could do worse than the IT industry. The tech industry put out a number of great books on the topic of changes in society and business during these modern times, a great place to start would be Kevin Kelly’s book New Rules for the New Economy, more than a decade old it still holds great relevance in today’s business world. By keeping my head up and my eyes forward I had a great career that was very rewarding. This idea of changing environments also will be a topic of its own in a future blog.
I remain optimistic, I personally decided now was the time for me to start a second career in the legal arena BECAUSE I saw the changes that were coming, and think there is real opportunity in it for people with vision. In the end… “you have to learn to move with the cheese…and enjoy it” (if you don’t know that line then make yourself get a copy of Who Moved My Cheese Spencer Johnson today. You can read it in one sitting.).