Paper stating to think outside the boxThroughout the month of May, Luke wrote a blog series titled “Thirty Days to a Better Law Firm.” Now it has been over a month since we completed the series, and we have received some great feedback from attorneys across the country who have begun to implement changes into their law firm. It has been amazing to hear from lawyers making significant and lasting changes to their firms. But for all of the success stories, there are plenty of attorneys who passively read through the series and dismissed the posts by immediately coming up with reasons why certain suggestions wouldn’t apply to them.

In our consultations we frequently see two types of people- those who are willing to listen to new ideas, and those who refuse to think outside of the box- leading them to make the same mistakes over and over again. When it comes to business, your ability to adapt to new and necessary changes in your law firm will be essential to your long-term success. However, while some people seem to dive into new ideas with ease, others struggle. Many people do not realize that the way you perceive problems directly correlates with the likelihood that you will do something to fix your issue. In this post, I will be discussing how your perspective on business problems effects your firm’s long-term success.

Lawyers who view business problems as outside of their control are less likely to engage in new ideas

First things first- people only make changes to a business problem if they recognize that something is not working as well as it could be in the first place. You have heard the old adage “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” The same is true in your business. If you believe everything is chugging along just fine, there is absolutely no motivation to make a change, because there is no problem. So before you decide you want to make your law firm “better,” you need to identify the actual problem. Don’t just say “I want to make more money,” because everyone wants to make more profits. Figure out where your law firm’s weak spots are by take a long hard look at how your firm operates. Consider if your employees are productive, if your firm is sending out all documents on time and meeting all deadlines, if your accounting is in order, if you are retaining the potential clients walking through the door, etc. Taking steps to correct a problem doesn’t start until you know what your problem is.

Once you have the business area identified that is holding your firm back, the real work begins. When facing a problem, people can take one of two perspectives; either the issue at hand is caused by external, uncontrollable factors, or by internal, controllable factors. If you see your law firm’s struggles as due to external issues, you may tell yourself that the economy is bad, the phone doesn’t ring, it’s hard to find good employees, or leads just don’t have the money. You may also view your own abilities as limited by unalterable personality traits- I’m bad at business, I’m just not an organized person, I don’t understand technology. Sure, there may be some truth to any of these statements, but if you take this perspective then you absolve yourself from responsibility. Once a person has chosen to believe that their poor business is due to bad luck, a sluggish economy, or personal limitations, then they begin to feel helpless. By definition, helpless people do not take action, and remain stuck in their situation. You leave your business up to fate, and eventually convince yourself that nothing can be done. This may save your ego the trouble of admitting that you aren’t perfect, but will result in a law firm that is perpetually stuck in second gear.

Lawyers who accept personal responsibility for business issues are motivated to learn new solutions

On the other hand, those who view problems to be caused by internal factors that are controllable are far more likely to accept responsibility for the problem while making a concrete plan of action. Often this means accepting short-comings; for instance, acknowledging that employees are poorly trained, that office policies are not being enforced, or that personal weaknesses are having a negative effect on business. This may initially sound harsh; nobody wants to admit that they are doing something wrong. As humans, we prefer to believe our way is correct, no matter how much evidence to the contrary might exist. But when you are the boss of your law firm the buck stops with you- if you can’t adapt and change, nobody else is going to do it for you. If you can place your ego aside and look at the problem from an objective point of view, you suddenly open yourself up to the possibility of change. By accepting that the problem starts with you, you can suddenly take the attitude that you also hold the key to the solution. Amazingly, that simple step of realizing things can be done in a different way is where most attorneys (along with everyone else) run into problems.

Of course, if making changes were that easy everyone would do it. A little thing called emotions often play a large part in how we approach problems, and unfortunately attorneys are just as susceptible to emotions as anyone else. In my next post, I will discuss how your emotions are holding you back from making business changes and costing you money.