Too often, the way we do things isn’t the result of wanting to solve the problem or improve the status quo. It’s about simply looking at how others are doing it and copying them.
It’s the way things are done–who are we to argue with it?
Do we have an office space because we need an office space, or because lawyers have always had office space?
Do we have a staff because we need a staff, or because lawyers have always had a staff?
Do we bill by the hour because that’s the best way to bill, or because that’s the way lawyers bill for their services?
Most significantly, do we solve the problem at hand based upon the “issues we spot” which fall into our practice area of choice?
Of course, I could go on and on: initial consults done in person, paralegals on the team, leather furniture, landline phones on desks, desktop computers, software on those computers, annual reviews, et cetera. You get the picture.
We hold on tight
We’re experts at explaining the way we do things, even if we really are just doing it because that’s the way it’s done and we’ve never thought to do it differently.
Office space makes for a pretty good illustration of our rationalization skill set:
We tell ourselves that we need an office because it sends a message to our clients. It demonstrates stability. We need a place to interact and collaborate with our team. We need somewhere to go to get away from the spouse, the kids, the dog. We need something we can control so we’re not exposed to the whims of others who might impact our productivity.
But our actions speak loudly–many of us get up early to get things done in the living room on our laptop while the family sleeps. We go into the office, close the door, put a little sign on the knob hoping to stop interruptions from our team so we can get things finished. Some of us bring the dog to the office because we like the company, or we find that visiting the clients in their workspace builds a better relationship. We text our spouse all day long because we’ve “got a long day at the office” and want to keep in touch.
Incredibly, we sometimes escape the office for the corner of a nearby coffee shop so we can “get some work done.”
We truly believe that we “need” an office, yet we jump through all sorts of hoops to avoid the office, get out of the office early, and find other places where we can be more productive.
What if we did it differently?
What if we worked from anywhere, at any time, in whatever environment made us most productive? What if that was a coffee shop in Barcelona or a tea shop in Yangon? Maybe doing it differently would be better. Maybe we’re just doing it the way we do it because that’s the way it’s done.
But it’s more than just office space. The way it’s done extends into every aspect of our work.
What if we assembled independent experts to help with projects using Upwork instead of hiring employees?
What if we billed for services based on the client’s determination of value instead of billing hourly or with fixed fees?
What if we solved the real client problem instead of the problem we happen to know how to solve simply because it’s the problem we’ve always solved?
What if being the lawyer is the worst thing to be?
What if you took on the role of organizer, or salesperson, or impresario? What if you got paid for bringing in the lawyers and paralegals, assembling the technology platform, and handling the financial issues?
What if you owned the relationship with the client and used your organizational expertise to drive your client’s project from inception to completion?
What if you understood the marketplace for available resources and leveraged your insight to create win/win relationships for the client, the knowledge workers, and other clients with an interest in the matter?
What if the project meant something beyond the immediate resolution of a problem? What if the work product morphed into something useful that could have an impact greater than merely solving the immediate problem?
What if you re-examined everything, looking carefully at the people, the relationships, the money, the physical materials, and the technology, to determine whether it’s still the best way to get the desired outcome?
Do things differently
You’re not constrained by history, even if it feels as if you are. You’re not restricted by tradition even if your peers behave as if things must be done with tradition in mind. You’re not restrained by much at all, other than lack of imagination, and a persistent belief that it must be a violation of a rule if nobody else is doing it.
You’re free, and if you’re not free, you’re free to fight to change the circumstances so that you can become free. Some hills are worth dying on.
You can do things your way. You can do things in a new way. You can do things in a better way.
And your change doesn’t need to be small and incremental. It can be big and bold. It can be well beyond what anyone else imagines.
It’s often helpful to step back from the obstacle, in order to see the thing clearly. Instead of digging under, climbing over, or working your way around the obstacle, it’s better to see the obstacle in context. Up close, it looks like something to overcome. From a distance, where you can see the journey differently, that effort may not be necessary. From ten feet back, it’s a big boulder. From ten thousand feet back, you can see there’s a highway, going in the opposite direction, taking you to a better place than you’d hoped to go.
I know, I know–you want 7 tech tips
Sure, I could suggest an app to make you more efficient. I could mention a website that automates something so you can spend less time messing with repetitive tasks. I could help you find a virtual assistant so that you can leverage your time.
But improving the efficiency of your broken system won’t help you, not really.
Instead, I’m giving you advice that might make you uncomfortable, because it can’t just be discarded or filed away like another checklist or app review.
I’m asking you to question what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and whether there’s a better way.
I’m asking you to think about the downside of relinquishing control, of following blindly where others lead.
Am I scaring you? Are you worried that the ground beneath your feet will disappear when things change and your clients move on without you?
I’m willing to take the risk of asking the questions. Are you willing to take the risk of finding the answers?