Will this be the year that you stop tolerating and build the practice that you really want?
Aren’t you tired of feeling like a juggler at the circus— desperately working to keep all the objects in sequence in the air, without hurting yourself or someone else in the process?
You are not alone.
Success today requires simultaneous management of many swords and other potential implements of destruction: overhead, retention, engagement, finding and keeping staff and associates, managing the books, ordering supplies, and being active community contributors.
You must find and manage clients to exceed their high expectations, doing more for less, and always with a smile. You must keep courts happy, writing briefs, meeting deadlines, and managing discovery, while wading through a sea of emails, text messages, notifications, and alerts.
Don’t forget the CLE requirements, getting the bills out on time, and getting paid – all while working that pesky problem that keeps you up at night. We haven’t even gotten to your blood pressure, the gym membership that expired (again), or the dog that barks at you like a stranger.
Are you living the life you imagined when you decided to attend law school? Are you where you planned to be? Is there a little voice in your head whispering thoughts like “What if you could have it all? If you only had more time, if you only had more money, if you only had more fun clients to work with”, then you could spend time with your family, take the trips that you want, and live the life of your dreams.
What if that voice is right? How would it feel if you could have it all?
The truth is, you can take control of your practice and your life —even in this out-of-control world. You can have your workflow smoothly over the inevitable speed bumps with grace and style. And you can have time for yourself, and your family—and your dog will know who you are.
Taking Control of Change
Change is as certain as death and taxes. You can choose to initiate the change you desire.
Or, you can react to change and let it control you. The simple choice is to be the change agent. The first step is taking control.
Luckily, we lawyers are great problem solvers. And, we’re really good at being change agents for others. We can learn the process and skills to move ahead and take control of our destiny. Then, it is a matter of confidence, consistency, and courage to see the change through. Of course, it helps to have a tribe to support you on the journey.
One constant in my 28-year career has been seeking out and adapting to change. My journey has included roles as a lawyer, business executive, entrepreneur, educator, executive coach, and speaker. Along the way, I tried many things that didn’t work and I discovered many incredibly effective strategies. I found common blockers and blind spots that keep otherwise smart and successful people from taking action. I also learned the Change Equation, which can help us initiate and navigate change effectively and resourcefully.
The Change Equation
The Change Equation is a model that explains how change happens and how to overcome blockers from moving forward. I learned it while designing and teaching courses in leadership, innovation, and change management for the MBA program at The Malcolm Baldridge School of Business. It has its roots in the 1960s research in organizational development. The modern formula was popularized in the early ‘90s by Kathleen Danmiller.
The formula is: D x V x F > R
D is for dissatisfaction with the current state. Dissatisfaction is the catalyst for change. This factor is most powerful when you clearly understand the source of your dissatisfaction. Many lawyers are dissatisfied with their practice, the life it provides, or both. When we dig deeper, we find they struggle to articulate exactly what isn’t working for them, why they aren’t satisfied, or even what “satisfactory” looks like. Do you feel this way? The first step is to acknowledge those things that leave you feeling empty and dissatisfied. It’s easy to shove your dis-ease down and accept it as normal. But when you do, it often manifests itself as malaise, lack of focus, perpetual overwhelm, and real disease. (Think of divorce and estrangement from your children and dissociation from what matters most, an accusation of malpractice, or a visit to the professional disciplinary committee.) So, call out the dissatisfaction from the dark recesses and name it.
V is for a vision of the future. Create a clear and compelling mental picture of what the future can be like as a result of the change. Most people start with what they want to move away from, not what they want to move toward. When you are bogged down by the daily grind, it can be hard to allow yourself to imagine or to dream of a better future. I see this often with lawyers who put themselves and their skills into a particular box with a label, such as “litigator” or “criminal defense attorney.” Labels can keep you from seeing the possibilities for other applications of your skills into new areas of the law, or even other careers. Permit yourself to dream again. Allow those lost interests to percolate to the top. Take some time to journal, and muse, and reflect.
Invest some time in this process. Connect again with those things that bring you joy.
F is for the first steps. You don’t need to plan every step to your destination to begin. Getting comfortable with uncertainty is one of the keys to making the change equation work for you. That’s why the equation focuses on the first steps. Start by brainstorming the big steps you must take to achieve your vision. Organize them into a general sequence that you feel would work and is actionable. Consider what knowledge, skills, abilities, and beliefs are necessary to execute the first several steps. The goal is not perfection; it is action. Plan for early wins. Then take a deep breath and take the initial steps. Assess whether you got the outcome you expected, what was the difference, and why, and determine what you can do differently. Repeat to build momentum.
R is for resistance to change. Unhappy people have a high resistance to change. And, typically, people seek to avoid the potential of loss rather than the potential to gain. FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) is a significant source of resistance. Fear of rejection. Fear of making a mistake, fear of commitment, fear of missing out. Fear of success. These all trigger our primal freeze, or our fight or flight response. We freeze up in the current state. We run away from the problem. Or we get angry and fight, denying the problem exists or blaming others for our issues.
We all resist change. The key to overcoming this factor is doing an honest assessment of what might be blocking our progress. Clearly defining your resistance points can reduce this factor and allow the rest of the equation to work for you.
You may have noticed that this is a multiplication equation. So, if any factor is zero, or if any factor is negative, the equation will fail. Each factor is related to and supports others. When your D x V x F is strong, you will begin to move toward your goal. You’ll then be in motion and increase your control in an out-of-control world.
Take the first step!
If you want to grow your practice you have to love the work you do, who you do it with – and the clients you serve.
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