Wednesday, May 1, 2013

You are Wrong, I am Right.

Quite often I converse with attorneys who start their sentences with the phrase "The right answer is...”  It's absolute and it feels reassuring and neat; for every problem, for every question, there is a perfectly right answer.  This phrase always gets me wondering: who are they trying to convince, me or themselves?  Are they giving me the right answer, or are they just forcefully making the case that it is not the wrong answer?  Or more to the point, that they are not wrong. 

I got to thinking about being wrong, and the fear that we all have about being wrong after watching an interesting TED Talk.  Kathryn Schulz lays out what we all know and see every day; we have been trained not to be wrong.  As an attorney, you are indoctrinated even deeper into a code of always being right.  It is generally a good instinct to possess as an attorney; clients do not like to work with lawyers who provide incorrect advice or work product that contains mistakes.
As a small law firm owner, or an aspiring one, you need to wear another hat that is critical to your success: that of an entrepreneur.  Successful entrepreneurs take risks, try new things that are uncertain and yes, they make mistakes.  Successful entrepreneurs make lots of mistakes.  Often, doing it wrong is the only way to figure out how to do it right.
How can you start taking calculated risks when it feels so uncomfortable?  The answer is planning.  By leveraging the best available information to determine possible outcomes, comparing risks of action against no action and establishing ways to measure success, you will feel empowered to take smart calculated risks and make good decisions. 

To get started, focus on the following:
-You are never going to have perfect clarity.  At NexFirm I spend my days helping aspiring founders and managing partners of small firms launch and grow their businesses.  We look at critical decisions from every angle and bring to bear all of the information we can put our hands on.  In the end, we determine the probability of potential outcomes and make the best decision we can.  Often it comes down to one simple point, can we live with this decision if the worse (not worst) case scenario plays out.  You will never have perfect information or the “right” answer; if you wait until you do you will never affect change.
-You are likely to overestimate the risk of the unknown, and underestimate the risk of no action.  If you are working at a BigLaw firm and you think that you will “probably” make partner, the odds are against you.  If you think you can’t do better for yourself as a small firm founder than as an associate, you are again playing against the odds.  Staying with the status quo always seems more comfortable, and the unknown feels risky.  Planning levels the field, allows you to measure the risk of no action fairly against proactive decisions and move ahead.
-In the small law firm business, the odds favor those who pursue growth.  Many small law firms tend to suffer from the same problem; when they are busy they don’t have the time to engage in business development, when the work ends they starve while they feverishly work on bringing in billable hours.  Growth brings diversification and richer financial resources, and it is a key to longevity.
Try to step out of your comfort zone and seek out some calculated career risks, investigate and quantify all that you can to make the best decision possible and don’t focus so much on not being wrong.  You may not get the right answer, just the best answer.

David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at dd@nexfirm.com.