The Contradictions Inherent in Building a Practice

It’s easy to believe that success in business or in life is binary. Do this. Don’t do that. Achieve.

But it doesn’t work that way. The answer to the question “Should I do this or that?” is often: Both.

Therefore, a lawyer who spends meaningful time on the Internet trying to curate the best advice to help grow his or her practice could very well end up more confused than enlightened. There’s no guidebook, no rule, no single strategy that guarantees success.

That’s a lesson that comes with experience and observation. It’s plain to see that highly achieving lawyers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are young and some are old. Some serious and some quirky. Some introverts and some extroverts. The profession teems with successful professionals of wildly different backgrounds, experience and expertise.

There is one quality, however, that most successful lawyers share: the ability to not get derailed by seemingly contradictory advice. Indeed, business – and life – are full of contradictions that must be recognized, grappled with, balanced and reconciled in order to succeed.

For example, it’s imperative to embody both hubris and humility. You need to have the hubris to think you’re the best at what you do, and also the the humility to know you have massive amounts to learn.

You need to crawl and sprint at the same time. It’s necessary to move slowly and deliberately toward long-term goals, but at the same time sprint like crazy every day just to keep up.

You have to have grit, but also know when to quit. Steely determination is required to persevere through the challenges, and acute self-awareness is needed to know when to pivot away from a failed strategy.

You need to dish out sugar and vinegar. The best way to motivate those around you is through encouragement and leading by example, but if sugar is not working then swift, decisive action is required to right the ship.

You need to act with patience and urgency. The young lawyer who aspires to make partner must learn to love the slow grind of growing and building, but also recognize that eight years will fly by faster than she thinks.

You need to be optimistic and pessimistic all at once. Lawyers must be optimistic about the market’s need for their services, but not blindly so. A healthy dose of pessimism allows them to recognize what aspects of their services are inferior, and work tirelessly to make them better.

You need to find contentment, and also not brush off the chip on your shoulder. Resentment and regret are poison, so lawyers must find peace with where they’re at. At the same time, though, they can’t lose sight of what motivates them if they want to continue to grow. In other words, don’t look back, be present in the moment, and always keep an eye on where you want to head in the future.

It’s not easy to build a practice. It’s sometimes maddeningly hard. And, yes, it’s often contradictory. But the ability to hold, and take action on, two seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time is what it takes to get ahead.