Career planning for lawyers – your #1 Priority: Specialism

The legal landscape is in a state of transition. It feels a bit like the industrial revolution for the service sector.

Some lawyers are holding on to the cliff face for dear life – they dare not look down, and going upwards isn’t much easier.

The predictions for the forthcoming year show little growth, and most lawyers will find themselves having to work their socks off just to stand still. Don’t even think of asking for a bonus.

This sense of “doing it, doing it, doing it” resonates with the technician phase that Michael Gerber of E-Myth fame talks about so eloquently when describing the technician who suffers from an entrepreneurial seizure. In other words, you will find yourself working in the business rather than working on the business.

But there is another way, however it requires you to stand back from the day job to dream …. and dream BIG.

If you are going to survive and prosper in the New World of legal services, then you have to become the best at what you do. Up to now you have been content to function by being less than discerning – one client looks and feels like the next.

It doesn’t matter on your practice area, but you will have to consider taking a scalpel to, potentially, a large unprofitable morass of clients. And then once you are done, and fretting about your billing target, go back to school, taking further exams if necessary (CPD is just the start) and focus with intense curiosity on learning everything there is to know about your chosen area. Think of it as going 1 inch wide but 5 miles deep.

If this sounds risky then it is, but, on the grand scale of things, it is far better to be in control of your destiny (you will of course need the support of the partnership) than to wait on the slow creep of the market to wipe you out.

The problem for most lawyers is that, very often, they have specialised for the wrong reasons. Either they tripped over a profitable, busy area of practice – that sort of floated their boat – or they bet on a hunch and that turned out (approximately) right.

But in the New World of legal services you need to practice a more exact science or at least one predicated on your true passion.

My own experience is that even when you are having to wing it on the language of a new sector (not the law one would hope), you can only maintain the passion, momentum and drive to make things work if you are pursuing something that inspires you. If what you do is just Ho Hum then forget it.

Lawyers are not creative when it comes to business development, but neither is management. If you relied on lawyers or those running law firms to invent things then the world would be a barren place. Even if you get buy in to your idea, then the majesty of the rainbow is ignored and everyone just focuses on the supposed pot of gold. Some may get lucky and pick a few winners but not enough. The only true way to guarantee a successful outcome is to start spending more time developing your people and focusing their efforts to coincide with what they are inspired by. If you find yourself with people who can’t think of a single thing where they can combine their passion with their job, then you have to seriously wonder why they went into law.

So, to recap. The #1 priority is to specialise and become the best at what you do. Seth Godin talks about being The Best in the World in his book The Dip. Of course your view of the world may just be the town your firm operates in or it could be the whole of the UK. The trick isn’t to copy the person who is currently the best but rather to consider how, over time, you can establish yourself as someone who is the first person who comes to mind for a market sector or specialism. This isn’t just about getting your name in lights in all the law directories. That helps but it’s the clients you act for, what they say and who is recommended to you that is far more powerful.

As I have said before, much like a broken record, none of this stuff is easy and time is not on your side. There are more and more people looking at the legal sector and your market may well be getting smaller and smaller. Unless you start now to establish your credentials you will find that as another me too lawyer you will be left to compete solely on price, which is never a very attractive place to operate in. Normally in that space only the Biggest survive.

Go paste this above your computer – “SPECIALISE, SPECIALISE, SPECIALISE. TO BE FOUND HERE: THE BEST IN THE WORLD” – and now go to work on your career.

~ JS ~