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The Myth That Keeps Most Lawyers Chained To Their Practice


Why is it that most lawyers don’t think it’s possible to get away from the office?

I don’t mean simply getting away from the office at the end of a long work day, but taking a weekend for yourself, completely unplugged. How about a full week unplugged? Two weeks unplugged? Most lawyers think this is absolutely impossible.

I think it stems first from a collection of myths.

Myth #1

The first myth is equating value with effort.

As lawyers, we’re trained from early on to think that income is based on labor. Our entire profession operates on this labor theory of value. We all know, though, that this doesn’t really make sense. If time and effort did equal value, then we’d all be busy digging holes and filling them. A lot of effort plus a lot of time should result in making a lot of money, right?

That’s simply not the case. As attorneys we sell intellectual capital. The real myth is that our stock in trade is time and effort. We think to achieve success, we have to be some kind of superhero. We think that what we need to do is to do more, and in turn, we have to do it all ourselves. Unfortunately, the myth is deeply ingrained.

In law school you have to do a lot of work to get from 1L to 3L, and even more when it comes to passing the bar. This ingrains a work ethic in us that serves us well in many instances. It doesn’t serve us well as business owners, though.

You, The Business Owner vs. You, The Employee

The vast majority of lawyers I speak to (it was over 70 last month) have this hero mentality. It becomes very counterproductive when you’re trying to grow a real business. The hero mentality blurs one of the most important distinctions - the distinction between you has an employee and you as a business owner.

Owning your own law practice forces you to wear these two hats. As an employee, you’re working inside your business - servicing clients, accounts receivable, etc. As an owner, you are the equity holder in your business. When you conflate these two, you begin to think that building the value of your firm depends on being more productive in your work, effort, and time.

The Alternative To Playing The Hero

What if, instead of doing it all yourself, you could substitute yourself out of some of those employee functions? Don’t ignore the employee functions, but substitute yourself out of them. They would still get done, and you would be able to pay attention to more strategic things, actually achieving a better result.

This prevailing myth that value equals effort is fundamental in stopping most lawyers from getting away from the office and unplugging. Has it stopped you?

Raj Jha