Today's headline is taken from an interview with Kevin Kelly in the June 16 issue of Business Insider. Kelly, who helped launch Wired magazine in 1993, believes that asking good questions will become much more important in the future than finding one-off solutions.

"Every time we use science to try to answer a question, to give us some insight, invariably that insight or answer provokes two or three other new questions," he says. "While science is certainly increasing knowledge, it's actually increasing our ignorance even faster."

In a certain sense what becomes really valuable in a world running under Google's reign are great questions, and that means that for a long time humans will be better at than machines. Machines are for answers. Humans are for questions."

What does this mean for lawyers' practice development? It should encourage the astute lawyer to think about how she wants to orient her practice and, by extension, how she'll go to market.

The four buckets of law

Jeffrey Carr, FMC's former General Counsel, is often quoted as saying the law business is made up of four buckets:

  1. Advocacy

  2. Counseling

  3. Process

  4. Information

He argues pretty convincingly that the final two can no longer be economic for outside counsel. After all, in the age of the Internet, information is free and process is cheap. Lawyers understandably want to charge premium prices, and until recently have been able to do just that for all four buckets. No more.

Ask the right questions

This is where Kelly's prediction comes in. Successful advocacy and counseling depend on asking the right questions, the right way, in the right sequence, in support of the right purpose. The senior litigator or deal lawyer isn't able to charge premium rates for executing tasks, but for asking the right questions that help their clients sort out complicated problems and make optimal decisions. Those lawyers deliver more value in a handful of hours than do the army of lawyers who implement the decisions clients make based on the senior lawyers' counsel and advice.

Likewise, astute salespeople can deliver more value before the sale than is often produced by the thing they sold.

That is, if they have the experience and judgment to ask the right questions that cause prospects to examine complicated or difficult issues in new, more useful, or more penetrating ways, leading the prospect to an optimal decision without regard to the seller's interests.

That last phrase is critical: "...without regard to the seller's interests."

In a high-integrity law practice, your advice isn't influenced by which solution paths will generate the greatest fee value for you. You offer advice that delivers maximum benefit to the client, even if that's "do nothing."

Likewise, salespeople can't be invested in how the prospect ultimately decides to solve her problem. Your only concern is helping them make a well-informed, sustainable decision that's in their best interests, as they've defined them.

By this logic, you'll recognize that your "lawyering" skills are the foundation of your selling skills. You're already capable and comfortable with investigating a situation to assess the optimal response.

Here's the inside of a business card I carried for years. It compares the practice of law to the practice of sales:

wallet card.jpg

Mike O'Horo

Like all of today’s entrepreneurs, solos find it especially challenging to attract clients, manage their businesses, and achieve their financial goals all at once. I’ve worked with lawyers and helped them make amazing strides in building a client base—and a practice—they love.

Attorney Sarah Poriss, is a solo. She interviewed me and others for a free online interview series called The Art of Being Solo: How to Create a Solo Law Practice You Love and Live the Life You Want. It explores the issues and challenges faced by solos and small firm attorneys to answer the question “How can we all build a law practice that we love and that inspires us?”

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