I hope you won’t think this title too melodramatic.
For those people that know me, I am a pretty hard-headed guy and not prone to laying out my soul. However, it is no exaggeration to say that Twitter changed my (professional) life.
I was a litigation lawyer, billing like crazy: £200k was the order of the day. I had a mix of private clients, some local SMEs and a few (not that many) FTSE type clients. I was kept busy fighting fires.
I worked with some amazing people and steadily grew my practice. I failed at my one and only shot at Partnership, and decided to move firms.
My passion is sport – cycling to be specific – and I wanted to set up a practice under the label “Sports Law”. I succeeded in part and secured a few client wins (yes there were some high profile names but I would be betraying my Oath of confidentiality/professional obligations if I were to divulge their names).
I learnt that my clients liked Twitter.
When I first came across the name, I didn’t have a clue what is was save that whenever Lance Armstrong’s name was mentioned so was Twitter.
So I climbed aboard in a hurry and started building my understanding of the platform and the wider Twitter landscape. I thought it was amazing, so much so that I requested a second computer screen so that I could run Tweetdeck independently of Outlook, Word and the other browser I had running.
So far so good.
The next thing that happened involved me sending, in my eyes, a perfectly innocent Tweet. Without going into the minutia, suffice to say that it caught the attention and ire of one of the firm’s larger clients who immediatley let rip with the firm’s management.
To cut a long story short, and to save a few blushes, I was told that the firm would have to issue a retraction, a formal apology and I sweated the whole weekend not knowing if I would have a job come Monday morning. My wife was a rock. She was understandably worried but kept reassuring me that everything would be OK.
In any event, when Monday did roll around (I should have said that I was on holiday at the time), nothing was said and it wasn’t until the Tuesday that I was told the client had not mentioned it again and the storm appeared to have blown over. Whether that was the case who knows. All I know is that it left me feeling numb.
After much soul searching – and I mean gut wrenching agonising – I decided that I could no longer live with the risk that everything that I did on Twitter would have to be confined to a narrow compass – essentially I could sell (I expect) – but as to being myself, and saying what I thought (within the normal bounds of decency and my professional obligations) then Twitter was likely to cause me a Big Fat problem.
“Umm … should I Tweet that? Or will I offend them or them or them?”
This disallusionment also coincided with my questioning of the profession. In the main, I always stuggled with how slowly things changed, the paucity of innovation and how little attention was paid to people.
I could see how Twitter (and the other social media platforms) provided an escape route for me. And so it has proved.
It is 12 months (actually it will be on 8 August 2011) since I left legal practice, and I haven’t regretted the decision for one single moment. And I really do mean that.
I don’t see me going back to a fee earning role, ever.
As I have said before our freedom – personally or professionally – can be summed in up in Neitzsche’s line:
“To become what we truly are.”
If you think that professional practice does it for you, then for god’s sake embrace it with all your heart.
There are so many peopole in the profession who aren’t fulfilling their potential and seem to think they have no other choice. I don’t believe that is the case. The world is simply changing too fast.
Leaving the profession has opened my eyes to many things. It has reawakened my deep love of learning. Law is cerebral but it flavours your view of the world to a greater extent than you realise. It fosters an unhealthy cynicism. You may be happy with that view point but I am not. I don’t want to look at every scenario as a disaster in the making. It’s one thing to cover your back, but another entirely to allow it to get in the way of change, creativity and innovation. In short, law trades too much off of fear.
Perhaps Derek Sivers takes it too far when he says in his book Anything You Want:
“They’ll [lawyers] play on your fears, saying that you need this stuff to protect yourself against lawsuits. They’ll scare you with horrible worst-case scenarios. But those are just sales tactics.”
I am not decrying the profession to that extent but I would ask you to put yourself in your client’s shoes just a bit more often and stop seeing everything as an opportunity to bill. If you put the client first and your staff more first then everything else, pretty much, will look after itself. That doesn’t mean you have to take on every client who comes in the door. Find out who you like to work with and go and find more of those clients.
Twitter really did change my (professional) life. If it wasn’t for Twitter then I expect that I would still be spinning plates, billing like mad and going home each might moaning to my wife and generally being unhappy with my lot.
Having made the move, I am now embarked on a new and exciting part of my life. I am happy with the fact that, when people meet me now, I am not defined by the title ‘solicitor’. I am just me. As my bio on Twitter says “I am a non-practising solicitor with a passion for EXCELLENCE.” I wouldn’t know what that translate to as a job.
I hope that I haven’t frightened you off Twitter or any of the other social media platforms. My call to action: go forth and explore. You never know it may just change your life.
~ Julian Summerhayes ~