Are you indispensable?

“The world has changed (again) and the stakes are higher than ever. Now we’re facing a full-fledged revolution – a hypercompetitive world involving art and gifts and fear and the ability for you (for anyone) to make an indispensable contribution to something you care about. If you’re not indispensable (yet) it’s because you haven’t made that choice.”

Seth Godin, Linchpin

This book had a dramatic affect on me. In many ways, it was the catalyst for my realisation that however much I gave to the business of law, I would never be fully satisfied.

I could have sat back and waited in line for my turn as Partner (of what?), but that would have been too easy, and left me feeling that I wasn’t being true to myself or those that I cared for. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate being a solicitor, but I came to realise that my true calling was outside the realm of Cubicle Nation where my growth was severely limited.

But enough of me.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2012 will be another tough, tough year. The billing cycle will be just as fraught as 2011 and you will face many travails along the way. Every day will feel like a repetition of the one before, and you will long for a break or better still the freedom to explore some of the things that have been placed on the back burner. Let’s face it clients are not the easiest creatures in the world to deal with. Just as you think you have got on top of things you either have another calamity to deal with or the client throws up their hands in horror when things do not go exactly to (their) plan.

Each day you will have to face down a tonne of fears – the ever present threat of being sued is never far away or the complaining client who never seems satisfied with your enormous effort.

Doing your best work is always eclipsed by the realities of the job. You would love to spend countless hours to get everything just so but you know, full well, that the client will not wear the hours on the clock. Proportionality for all its good intent does limit the portent of a full disclosure exercise or going beyond the dotting of ‘is’ and crossing of ‘ts’. There is always a balance to be struck.

My message for much of the last year has been to try and see the wood for the tress and go to work on your career and not just spending inordinate amounts of time doing the work (the old grinder in David Maister speak).

But for 2012 the question you need to ask yourself is are you indispensable? I don’t mean can the firm replace the hole in the budget or the handful of clients that might depart but, rather, can your firm do without you?

I have begged you to make time for something other than the work:

a) reading;

b) social media;

c) speaking;

d) internal and external networking;

e) improving your communication skills;

f) moving beyond the day job; and

g) improving your craft every day.

In my book these are the minimum you should be aiming at. You have to want to make a difference, move the bar beyond the limits you or others have set and push yourself beyond the accepted wisdom.

You could decide to sit back and wait. Wait for someone to tell you what to do. But by then it might be too late.

Don’t settle for average.

Average may have worked when the work was plentiful but not now. In fact, in the next few years the work that you took for granted will be fought over like never before. Clients will no longer accept the price as seen, and if they do then you can bet they will want a gold-plated service.

Take the time now to reflect if you are up for the fight.

What does the very best lawyer look like?

What will you have to do in order to stand out and be noticed?

Win clients?

Bill?

Suck up?

No, you will have to be indispensable.

If you can’t tick that box then prepare yourself for a slow drift to being just another number. But you have to be prepared to leave your true self at the front door and watch the rise of the commodity offering of which you will become part.