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Because we’re a startup, I read blogs by successful startup founders. One of particular interest is Smart Bear, by Jason Cohen.  Yesterday, he posted about The One Important Thing for Startups (to measure), including the expression that became my title today.

This is what I took from his post, and what lawyers need to focus on and make a hard decision about.

Jason quotes Noah Kagan (founder of AppSumo and the marketing mind behind Mint):

“A startup can focus on only one metric. So you have to decide what that is and ignore everything else.”

Right now, lawyers reading this are thinking, “What does this have to do with me? I’m not a startup.” Yes, you are a startup. Whether literally, in the case of lawyers who just hung out a shingle, or solos, who understand the acute resource constraints of startups, or even BigLaw denizens who see themselves as a small cog in a huge machine, all lawyers are virtual startups, because each of you must generate enough business to be successful, however you define that.

The law biz is inundated with vague admonitions such as “strengthen client relationships,” “be more client-centric,” etc. IMO, this is useless babble, because none of those expressions have any actionable, measurable meaning. And, even if you could somehow measure the “strength” or “client-centricity” of a relationship and improve it in some way, it would likely be an incremental change.

Will incremental improvement change your career and life in any significant way? Yes, actually. Unfortunately, it will be in ways opposite what you want.

Clayton Christensen, often called the guru of disruptive innovation, is frequently quoted as saying that "disruptive innovation creates jobs and incremental (efficiency) innovation destroys them."

Focus on big changes where, if you moved the lever, it would significantly change your practice, say, by doubling revenue or breaking into a high-growth market, or getting the signature client that puts you on the map with other such clients.

For many lawyers, that “big thing” is doing whatever you must to acquire the skills to:

  • Establish a valuable, protectable position in a growing market
  • Have prospective clients approach you to discuss high-impact challenges
  • Help those clients make smart, well-informed, self-interested decisions about hiring a lawyer
  • Keep yourself current about how their businesses are changing, so you’ll know ahead of time how yours should change with them

Little incremental things can come later, when you have the extra time. Today, it’s just big needle-moving things. As Kagan put it so well, “At a little company there’s no time for small changes achieving small goals.”  We’re all little companies.

Focus on the one thing that will change your practice in the biggest way.

Mike O'Horo

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