As lawyers, we’re taught that book smarts matter.
From getting into law school, to getting through law school, to passing the bar exam, everything in our little lawyer world tells us it’s all about book smarts.
After all, the lucky ones graduating from top-tier schools go right to the big firms making top dollar... So book smarts must equal a better practice, right?
Let’s define “book smarts.”
Book smarts is knowing the answer. Brute force knowledge of the law. The technical practice of law that helps you win cases, negotiate like a rockstar, and makes people say, “helluva lawyer.”
That's book smarts. And the reality isn't that book smarts make for great law businesses.
Actually, people with books smarts make good employees.
Now let’s talk about “street smarts.”
I know more about street smarts because, quite frankly, I don’t have a lot of book smarts.
Street smarts is knowing how to get what you want. To use the resources available to you - whatever they are today - to get you where you want to go.
That’s what we always talk about at Practice Alchemy. The outcome of your business.
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You can study law as much as you want, but is that really going to change your business? You always want to do a great job for your clients. But when it comes right down to it, clients don’t know how good of a lawyer you are.
And insisting that the only difference between you and another lawyer with a much more freeing, lucrative, and fulfilling practice is sitting in another CLE? Come on.
Getting better or smarter, if that’s even possible, isn’t going to produce more business.
There may be some indirect benefit gained for being a rockstar at the technical aspects of the law. Of winning cases, negotiating deals, zealously representing like we're supposed to do. And we are supposed to do that. But that’s the least efficient way to create a great business.
Street smart lawyers realize the diminishing return of trying to be more book smart.
Instead, they focus on the outcome they want. For most, that outcome is a business that supports their lifestyle. That lets them unplug. Enjoy the fruits of their labors.
And that’s why we see a lot of lawyers who may not have attended the best schools, and didn’t work at the best firms as associates ... but they hang their shingles, focused on what mattered, and are cleaning up in term of their business.
These are the lawyers who experiment. They realize there is never one right answer, and no such thing as black and white. That business isn't about proving something to the Nth degree before taking action.
They just do it, and find out what works.
Dispense with these two notions. Please.
Lawyers have made huge investments and spent thousands of hours learning the technical practice of law. As a result, they think:
“Being a better lawyer is going to lead to a better business.”
“I can create the business I want by reading articles from people who have never built an actual law firm or achieved what I want to achieve. I can do this in my spare time.”
How could you possibly think learning how to run a real business would be any easier than the work you put into becoming a lawyer? That somehow, because we're law practices, that the laws of economics, the art of business creation is somehow different?
People want everything to be easy. They think every problem can be solved by pushing a magic button.
But there is no single article or book that will magically transform your practice into a successful business.
If it was that easy to build a real business and effortlessly attract clients, we would all have great businesses.
But we don’t.
My solo practice started in my one-bedroom apartment, on my dining room table, with file boxes shoved up against the wall in a heap. I'd throw a blanket over them when my girlfriend came over so it wouldn't look like the mess it was. Always meeting clients at their place, because I didn't have an office. I was treading water, at best, for a long time because I didn't know what I didn't know.
Until I realized that I needed to focus as much effort on creating a business as I did on becoming a lawyer.
People have succeeded in building law practices that don’t require them to work all the time. They have a practice they can sell because it has intrinsic value, separate from themselves.
They do this in one of two ways: They grow through constant trial and error, and a huge amount of effort. Taking years. That's the long, dark road I took, and I don't recommend it.
Or they find a model that works, shortcutting the process.
They find people who’ve already done what they want to do, and follow that model.
That’s a heck of a lot easier than making things up as you go, day after day, and becoming frustrated when you don’t get the results you want. Because you don't know what you don't know.
So let me ask you. You're probably not where you want to be. What's the first step you're going to take to get yourself there?