Successful Lawyers Don’t Focus On The Competition

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Do you have a competitive streak?

I do, and sometimes it gets between you and me. It causes me to neglect you. When that happens, we both lose out. I apologize.

I sometimes get distracted by others in the law practice management space. I stumble across something they write or do, and it pulls me off course. I find myself wondering what I need to do to keep up with, or (let’s be honest) beat the competition.

When I focus on the competition, instead of on you, I wind up ranting about the wrong problems, emphasizing the wrong solutions, and expending needless energy on unimportant topics.

When I practiced law, I often let my competitors steer me in the wrong direction. I’d see another firm buying ads, or publishing articles, or throwing a party, and I’d decide we should do that too. I’d get desperate for better ads, more articles, and a bigger party. I’d neglect what we were already doing in order to catch up with what they had decided to do. Shifting my focus led me to abandon partially finished projects in order to work on half-baked ideas prompted by others.

The vision I had for the law practice wasn’t about impressing other lawyers or feeling like I was keeping pace with them–it was about fixing the lives of people who found themselves in one of the most terrible situations they could imagine. But every time I felt the need to pay attention to people who weren’t my clients (which was often), my ability to solve the problems of the people I most wanted to help suffered.

It’s hard to stay focused on the goal. It’s easy to get distracted by the others in the race. Next thing you know, you’re headed toward the others instead of toward the finish line.

I couldn’t help myself

When my competitors took action it gnawed at me, it disturbed me, it caused me psychic distress because I thought they might beat me. I really, really, really didn’t want that to happen. By responding to their actions, of course, I made it more likely that they would defeat me. I’ve done many dumb things for competitive emotional reasons.

Their efforts and achievements constantly drove me off track. I could feel them catching up, passing, leaving me in the dust. I was always looking over my shoulder.

When someone showed up on one of those ‘best’ lists–like Super Lawyers or Best Lawyers in America–I’d get agitated. My brain spun uselessly for hours, dreaming up new ideas, and leaving me in an exhausted state. My competitors drove me nuts. Paranoia crept in. Not responding was not an option.

Your competition doesn’t determine your success

“Only the Paranoid Survive” was the title of a top business book published just a year after I started practicing law. I guess I took that idea a little too far. The book helped me justify my external focus and the resulting paranoia.

Focusing on the competition is a mistake, but I did it anyway. I still do it sometimes.

But focusing on my competitors was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. It’s crazy, unhealthy, and counter-productive. It always leads us in the wrong direction.

You have to set your own direction. I teach Rosen Institute members the foundational idea that they need to create a vision of their business. Once they can see it, the path to building it becomes a lot more manageable. We work together to clarify their visions, lock them down, and then we go to work executing their plans. Your direction of movement and of action should always be toward your vision.

When we let external factors distract our focus, we stop building the business we see in our vision. Suddenly we’re building something different–someone else’s vision–and we’re wasting energy by heading in the wrong direction.

We should lead the way

I, like you, should be a leader, not a follower. We should each set our own course. Letting the competition creep into your mind turns you into a follower. When you let them set the course you stop being the leader in your business. You’re letting others set your agenda. That’s a big mistake, especially since most of the time, they don’t know where they’re going.

You see it in yourself sometimes. You know when you’re being reactive instead of proactive. You know when you’re doing something for the wrong reason: not because it’s right for you, but because the lawyer down the hall is doing it first.

I see it happening frequently in the law practice management world.

One blogger I know, a law practice management type, spends an inordinate amount of time ranting about others in our law practice management space. In post after post he explains how his competitors are doing it wrong. That blogger is not alone. I’m constantly reading blog posts critical of the competition. What a waste of time and energy.

Instead of telling us how others are doing it wrong, I (and my competitors, but don’t mention it to them) need to stay focused on doing it right. That’s how we serve our audiences. Focusing on the future and what’s possible is far more helpful than focusing on the failures of others.

It’s my responsibility to visualize what I want my business to be, and then do the work each week to bring that vision to life. That was true when I built Rosen Law Firm and it’s true now as I build Rosen Institute. Building these businesses is about bringing a vision to life, and bringing the value we create to our customers. It’s not about the others in our business space.

If the competition doesn’t matter, who does?

The clients matter. They should always be the focus of our energy.

The clients are the folks who benefit from our efforts. They’re the beneficiaries of our vision. They’re the people who pay the bills. They’re the audience who decides whether we’re meeting their needs. These are the people who judge us, and they determine our fate. They are the audience we have to focus on, pay attention to, and assess as we create our vision. It’s their needs we seek to fulfill and they should be the driving force in our decision-making.

The clients matter most, and both you and I need to keep that front and center.

I’ve got to always remember that I publish for you. You are the focus of my business.

You’ve got to always remember that your business is focused on the clients you serve. It’s simple. It’s easy. But it’s also easy to get distracted by other forces, like the competition.

Focusing on clients allows us to continuously update our understanding of what the clients need and want and how they want it delivered. Staying focused allows us to remain in a state of continuous improvement. We keep getting better. Distraction can only get between us and our client’s needs.

Don’t let the distraction happen (and please keep reminding me too) because every ounce of energy we expend worrying about the competition is an ounce of energy that could have been spent making our vision happen and serving our clients.

The winner is the lawyer who delivers the vision

Each of us holds beliefs about what the ideal client wants and needs from us. We create a vision for a business that satisfies our clients. Then, as we serve our clients, we measure their reactions to our offering and we make adjustments. We keep listening and observing as our clients interact with our business. The back and forth of the client dance enables us to optimize and perfect our delivery.

Learning doesn’t stop. We look to teachers and experts for input. We observe and learn from leaders in other fields. We stay focused on the things that matter. We spend our energy on our company. We remain aware of the competition without letting them drive the delivery of our service.

You know you’ll always have competition. But, you also know that you’ll be more competitive when you stop focusing on the competition. Don’t let them throw you off course.

Do it your way. Be unique. Be different. Be your own special sauce. Be willing to create and commit to your vision. Stay focused on your clients.

The most successful lawyers aren’t imitating, they aren’t distracted, and they aren’t worried about another lawyer getting ahead. They’re worried about their clients getting behind. That’s who deserves your attention.

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