By Michael R. Hammond and Mark Powers

It seems that in the eyes of the public, the “professions,” as they used to be called, have become occupations just like any others. And we “professionals” have lost our special status – and much of the respect that went with it. So perhaps it is time to rethink one of the traditional assumptions of the professional: If we do good work, clients will beat a path to our door. Unfortunately, that path is in danger of becoming overgrown. As a result, we need to change our perspective too. The choice is whether we remain technicians – focused exclusively on the technical aspects of practicing law – or whether we broaden our definition of professionalism and merge the attitude of the entrepreneur into our work as well.
To succeed, it is imperative that we do the latter.

Being a good technician is not enough anymore. In today’s environment, competence in the practice of law is assumed. Competence just gets you up to bat. It does not get you on base. It is not enough to bring clients to your door consistently. How do you know if you are primarily a technician?

Here is one hard and fast litmus test: Have you ever found yourself saying: “If my clients would just leave me alone, I could get my work done!”?

The Technician

When you are a technician, you see everything that does not pertain to your technical work as a distraction or even an annoyance. You find yourself drafting documents, doing research and planning negotiation strategies and avoiding listening to client needs, managing staff and developing financial controls. You are committed to doing great legal work, which is important, but you are less interested in the big picture for your own practice. This means you are working IN your practice, rather than ON your practice.

Here are a few more indicators of being a technician:

  • You feel chronically frustrated and overwhelmed by present day circumstances;
  • You are deeply involved in day-to-day issues, often reacting to reoccurring crises;
  • You do not know where your practice is going, or what your practice will look like when you are finished developing it;
  • You are working harder to generate income, but you are not sure if your practice is profitable.

According to Michael Gerber in The E-Myth, the technician makes a “fatal assumption.” The technician assumes that if he can perform the “technical,” or legal, work, then he must understand the business that does the technical work.
Unfortunately, this assumption doesn’t ring true for any professional. Just because someone can perform a particular task well, it does not necessarily follow that he is equally competent at the skills involved in managing that task. Ask any full-time practicing attorney recently promoted to managing partner. It’s not that simple!

The Entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur, on the other hand, means working ON your practice as well as IN your practice. You have a vision of what your ideal practice looks like, and a plan for realizing it. This includes having a feel for the needs and concerns of the marketplace and for the pulse of your clients’ businesses.

Building a practice is like building a house. A homebuilder would not begin building a home before seeing the architectural drawings and knowing that the end result would serve the life he’s planned for himself and his family.

Before going to work on your business, you should know what is important to you professionally, financially, emotionally and even spiritually. With this vision, you will approach your practice in an entirely different manner, with firmly set goals that you renew on a regular basis to make sure that your actions are still on target. As a result, you will experience greater satisfaction, balance and success in both your personal and professional life.

Technicians – Inside focus

  • “Legal work”
  • Product quality
  • Works IN the practice
  • Clients are a distraction

Entrepreneurs – Outside focus

  • “Client service”
  • Service quality
  • Works ON the practice
  • Clients are the purpose

Looking Forward

Whereas the technician starts off wanting a practice and ends up building a job that produces income, the entrepreneur goes to work on a practice that serves his life and produces profit. Merging an entrepreneurial attitude into your daily work is a big change for the technician in you. One way to start is to develop a personal and professional mission statement, a compass for your life, which will dictate the decisions you make. A resource for learning how to do this is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Although it may at first seem “unprofessional” to think both like a technician and an entrepreneur, it is the way to be sure that your practice – and your profession – are positioned to thrive in the future.

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