The Forces Keeping Us from the Law Firm of our Dreams

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My vision of the law firm I planned to build was clear. I knew what I wanted for myself and for my clients. I could see my future business with clarity. Of course, some parts of it were murkier than others, but I felt good about what I believed I could do. I had started to grasp the steps I’d have to take to create the law firm I could see in my mind’s eye.

In many respects, my vision was driven by weaknesses I had seen in our legal community. I knew we were often over-burdened by our work, neglecting ourselves and our families. I wanted to do things differently. I knew that we didn’t always serve clients in ways that satisfied their needs, and that they seldom finished the process feeling satisfied with the results.

I wanted to do things differently.

I knew that our employees often felt unfulfilled and disconnected. They were punching the clock and feeling like we weren’t investing in them, so they didn’t feel compelled to invest in the practice and the clients.

I wanted to do things differently.

I was confident that the vision I had created–a vision of a different kind of law firm–would make me, my clients, and my team happier. Once I saw a better law firm in my mind, I felt a strong sense of purpose and certainty. My newborn vision energized me. I was fired up and ready to go!

Then, life took over. Client deadlines came and went. Family emergencies popped up. Financial pressures distracted me from thinking long-term. The vision faded a bit in the chaos of my life. I wasn’t making the progress I had imagined.

I’m really good at making excuses

Doubt started to fill in the empty spaces that were left behind as my vision began to recede.

But I was certain that the doubts weren’t my fault. I’m pretty good at blaming anyone and everything when I fail to get something done, up to and including the actual thing I’m trying to do. Why focus on myself when I can so easily find excuses for my lack of progress? Clearly it wasn’t my fault that the vision wasn’t coming to fruition. Maybe it was just a bad idea to begin with.

I convinced myself that the vision was off. It hadn’t been right from the outset and I needed to revisit the plan. Had the vision been right, I’d be motivated, energized, and on track. The faulty vision explained my lack of progress. The fact that I wasn’t working on building the law firm of my dreams wasn’t procrastination, fear, or feigned busyness–nope. Not me.

I’d had big dreams, big plans, big ideas about being different, standing out, making a difference, and helping my clients in better ways. But making all of that happen required my constant attention, vigilance, and energy. It’s easy, in the midst of the busyness, to get tired and lose focus. My exhaustion led me to wonder if my dream was the right dream.

The world I lived in, the lawyer world, compounded my doubts. If the way it was being done by most lawyers was good enough for them, then why did I want to do it differently? I often felt like my vision put me at odds with my legal community.

We’re naturally influenced by our peers

We spend an inordinate amount of time interacting with other lawyers. We see them in the office, at the courthouse, at bar association meetings, and we gravitate toward one another at social events. Lawyers talk to lawyers. We’re drawn to one another like ants to sugar. If there’s more than one lawyer in the room, then we’re usually standing next to each other.

We are, whether we like it or not, part of the legal community. We are them, they are us, we are one. We want to belong because humans are hard-wired with a strong need to belong to a group. No matter how oppositional, difficult, and obstinate we lawyers may sometimes appear, we still want to belong. There’s value in understanding how our basic human needs impact our drive to build the business of our dreams.

Your vision often puts you at odds with your need to belong. Many of us want something that looks different from the law firms of our peers. Rarely does a lawyer invest time, working on instead of in the business, only to decide to build a law firm identical to all the other law firms.

When you start executing plans for implementing your vision, word gets out. You’re sharing the picture you have in your mind with your team and others. You’re sharing your vision because it’s inspiring. But your vision sets you apart. It makes you different. You’re stepping away from your community, even if only in small ways. We feel the subtle (and not-so-subtle) pressure to conform to the beliefs of our community.

Other lawyers matter more than we like

The legal community–or at least, our desire to belong to that community–pushes us backward toward a typical lawyer’s vision. The legal community sees the world through a certain filter, and that perspective is strong. Building a law firm that looks different is even harder if it deviates from the blueprint that has such tenacious roots in the collective consciousness of our community. That explains why so many lawyers do things the same way in their approach to legal problem solving, business management, marketing, and even clothing and lifestyle choices. We want to belong.

Being different feels like rejecting your community. Advancing your unique vision triggers the warning sirens that you’re dangerously close to not belonging. Often your understanding of the community, coupled with your need to fit in, pushes you to alter your trajectory before you’ve even taken any actions that might set you apart.

That fear of being different, of standing apart, of not belonging to a community, isn’t something we typically can see in ourselves. We just know that we once felt certain about our vision and now we have doubts. We rarely understand the doubts, but we know they’re strong–strong enough that we delay, procrastinate, and reconsider our plans.

Our need to belong makes us doubt our vision, and can make us think it was wrong from the outset. We don’t typically see the need to belong as the source of our doubt. We believe the vision itself was flawed and feel certain that it’s those flaws holding us back from taking action.

Questioning your vision is inevitable

The certainty we feel about what we want weakens over time. Why?

Because turning a mental picture into reality is hard work. Because it’s easy to fall into the trap of being busy, encountering obstacles, and feeling fear. It’s also easy to bump up against the desire of our peers to maintain the status quo, and back down.

The vision you created, after giving it much thought and consideration, is solid. It works. It doesn’t get weaker over time.

It’s natural to have doubts about your vision. Doubts don’t mean your vision isn’t as good now as it was when you created it. If the vision was right then, it’s still right now. Believe in yourself. Don’t let your failure to execute turn into a belief that the vision is flawed. The struggle is normal. The vision is fine.

Persistence is required

When you created the vision for your law firm, you invested time and passion and your deepest dreams. That vision is solid. You spent hours, if not days or weeks, thinking about it. You locked it down.

Then the struggle began.

Life, clients, employees, other lawyers, and more, intervened and slowed your progress. That’s to be expected.

Now, you look at your notes and wonder if you had it all wrong. You didn’t.

Instead of investing time in a new vision, or forgoing a vision entirely, go back to the one you poured your soul into, and get re-focused on moving forward.

Don’t start over. Don’t hit the reset button. Don’t give up on forward momentum because you’re fretting over decisions you’ve already made correctly.

Go back to the vision. See it again as you saw it before. Double down. Focus. Get back to work. Be persistent and expect to spend time in the place of uncertainty as you go forward. There will always be doubt. But persistent effort will bring your vision to fruition.

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