Archive for May 19th, 2010

It’s frustrating, trying to teach lawyers the fundamentals of doing business. Several of them arrive in my office each month, wanting advice on changing careers. But they haven’t got a clue.

That’s because they still think success is making your parents happy. Lawyers start out as the kids who do everything right. They behave. They obey. They get good grades. Typically they aren’t especially talented at anything – just good at everything. The formal education system is designed to reward that sort of bland “goodness.” It isn’t about getting an A in any one subject – it’s about getting “all A’s.”

That doesn’t make any sense in the real world. You don’t need all-A’s, you need to discover the work that you love to do.

A friend of mine at Harvard failed or nearly failed half his courses every year. His grade-point average was dismal. Why? He was in a laboratory day and night, doing PhD level, cutting-edge bio research. He used to laugh at the academic advisors who lectured him about his grades. Now, after a successful career as a scientific researcher and inventor, he’s become a millionaire venture capitalist.

He knew what he wanted to do, and knew that his GPA wasn’t going to hold him back.

A lawyer would never take that path – in fact, he couldn’t. Legal education is all about exams, exams and more exams, and being the very best on every one, even if only by a tiny percentage. From that one extra point on the LSAT to that one extra point on the bar exam, it’s about everyone doing the same thing, but beating the next guy by a hair.

With that training, you end up utterly unequipped for the world of business, which is why the transition to business is so difficult for a lawyer.

Legal education, and law firm work, is infantilizing. It regresses you into the child who instinctively desires to delight a parent. You try to please an authority figure by doing what they say. You do the work, and make them happy.

That strategy is doom for an entrepreneur. To succeed in business you must separate from the parent, and begin to parent yourself. That means letting go of pleasing others, and becoming the authority figure in your own world. You’re the boss. You follow your own instincts. You make yourself happy.

Here are some rules for stamping out the lawyer in you and embracing the business person:

Develop people skills. A young lawyer asked me to help him get out of law the other day, and I suggested group therapy, so he could work on his interpersonal communication. He nixed that idea, saying it wouldn’t be a good idea for him, since he “tends to shut down in groups.”

If you are trying to do business, you can’t “shut down in groups” – you have to “light up” in groups. Business isn’t about disappearing into your office and working all night. It’s about networking, working contacts and getting people excited about you and what you’re selling. Which brings me to another rule…



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